Depending on who you ask, the experiment has been going on for two years, eight years, 12 years. There have been hundreds of people, or maybe thousands involved. There is a film at its center, or perhaps multiple films and also a “slate” of television series. It’s real, or it’s not real, but it does exist. It’s “DAU,” the insane Ukrainian film production that, at the very least, hired scores of people to participate in an artistic endeavor that, by its very nature, consumed their lives. And now it’s got a trailer.
Here’s what’s for sure: at some point in the early aughts, Russian filmmaker Ilya Khrzhanovsky decamped to the Ukrainian city of Kharkov, where he set up something — he calls it The Institute — in the outskirts of town. He hired people (lots of people) to partake in his vision, which involved recreating ’50s and ’60s Moscow on a massive scale, a full city crafted from nothing and populated with willing participants. Now, whatever the hell Khrzhanovsky cooked up has spawned thirteen films and a number of television series, at least according to the film’s first actual piece of marketing, a thrilling and strange new trailer that recently appeared on the internet (via Birth.Movies.Death. writer Siddhant Adlakha, who also wrote a deep dive about the film in August of last year).
The new trailer plays up the scope of the production — by its own telling, the project took place over two years and employed hundreds of people — and only hints at the madness that reportedly fueled it. Without any context, it’s intriguing, but for cinephiles and art enthusiasts who have tracked it for years, it’s explosive.
In 2011, GQ journalist Michael Idov was granted entry to the set, where he reported that the basic aim of the production was to dramatize the life of Lev Landau, “a Nobel Prize–winning physicist, Landau significantly advanced quantum mechanics with his theories of diamagnetism, superfluidity, and superconductivity. He also tapped epic amounts of ass. Landau’s views on sex and marriage anticipated the Summer of Love by decades. …His life, ready-made for a biopic, received a nightmarish final act after he crashed his car near Moscow in 1962. The physicist spent two months in a coma. The Nobel Prize ceremony was moved to his bedside.”
That’s where things started, but as Idov documented in his wildly entertaining piece, that barely scratches the surface when it comes to “DAU.” Per Idov’s telling, Khrzhanovsky and his team employed thousands of extras, while at least fifty main characters were expected to live as their characters for years, never leaving set. Even visitors must dress in period-appropriate clothing — Idov even got a period-approrpiate haircut — and once on set, they can say nothing about the “modern” world (do so, and you’ll be fined). And the set, oh the set, it looks just as it should, and that’s part of the process, because being in that environment, well, you can’t help but suddenly feel as if it’s all real, even if there are cameras hidden everywhere.
And that’s just the beginning of what became one of the most fascinating productions to ever rock the movie world. There’s at least one thing that’s true about “DAU,” as announced in the trailer: “The experiment is ongoing.” Oh, you bet it is.
You can watch the first trailer for “DAU” on the film’s site right here. “DAU” — in some shape or form — will be available this autumn.