Sunday, September 13, 2015
I happened on this movie by accident while browsing the Starz schedule, and had to look it up on IMDb before I remembered that it was the official Russian entry in the Oscar foreign film category -- and that there was some controversy in Russia over its portrayal of the hard-drinking Russians, the corrupt bureaucracy, and the complicit Russian Orthodox Church. It's a truly astonishing film when you consider all of these things, and that the villain of the film, the grasping, criminal major (played to the creepy depths by Roman Madyanov) presides over his malfeasance under a watchful portrait of Vladimir Putin. At one point in the movie, the protagonist, Kolya (Alexey Serebryakov), and his friends engage in some drunken target practice that involves shooting at pictures of Brezhnev, Gorbachev, and other former communist leaders. One of the group says he has pictures of some more recent targets once those are gone. Cynicism and bitterness prevail throughout the film, and with its dark humor and deep-rooted hopelessness it reminds me of hard-core American film noir. Through it all, though, there's the soiled beauty of the Russian landscape, splendidly filmed by Mikhail Krichman. There are some chilling moments, such as the monotone readings of the court's judgment against Kolya in his suit against the mayor and the even more devastating judgment against Kolya at the film's end. And it's heart-wrenching to watch the destruction of Kolya's home from inside, with furnishings that we have come to know from earlier scenes in the movie still in place, being swept away by the jaw of wrecking machine. Zvyagintsev is a director I want to see more of, especially his critically praised The Return (2003) and Elena (2011).