REVIEW: Спутник [Sputnik] [2020]

Victors are not judged. Heroism comes at a cost, but rarely is it the hero’s to bear. They reap the benefits, bathe in praise, and maybe even start believing they’ve earned it regardless of whether the title was bestowed upon them for saving lives or simply being a “pioneer.” Those who suffer are the families left behind who compete for this hero’s time and those faceless strangers the hero trampled upon with a sense of entitlement and lack of remorse. A hero exists for what could be while that which…

Read More

REVIEW: Papa, sdokhni [Why Don’t You Just Die!] [2019]

It’s surprising how everything evil can be justified. Matvey (Aleksandr Kuznetsov) just wants to take his girlfriend Olya (Evgeniya Kregzhde) on a date. At least that’s what he tells her father Andrey (Vitaliy Khaev) when he opens the door. We know it isn’t quite true, though, considering his pulse is racing and his grip on the hammer hidden behind his back is tightening. Because a neighbor is walking to her apartment across the hall to provide way too compelling a witness, he can’t just take a swing and leave. So…

Read More

REVIEW: Leto [2018]

Laziness has kept me out of trouble many times. We only recognize it through hindsight, but Americans are spoiled by cultural freedom. Growing up in the 1980s and 1990s meant having the opportunity to listen to radio stations, records, and cassettes of music spanning multiple genres and eras. It was all at our fingertips and we didn’t have to do much to acquire it unless we lived in a conservatively oppressive household with parents who thought rock-n-roll was a gateway drug for Satanism. From new wave to grunge with blues…

Read More

REVIEW: The Road Movie [2018]

“Did we record?” I’d like to know the regulations for automobile tires in Russia because Dmitrii Kalashnikov‘s dash-cam compilation documentary The Road Movie has too many violent fishtails and gravity-enforced overturns to not have its audience infer the country as being riddled with bald tires. Some incidents occur in snowy conditions, but others don’t. Speed surely plays a factor alongside a weirdly calm yet psychotic form of road rage too, but the numbers are still too high to ignore. He probably could have filled the entire 67-minute runtime with these…

Read More

REVIEW: Moscow Never Sleeps [2015]

“You can’t just pretend I never existed” Writer/director Johnny O’Reilly found himself in Russia during college and decided to stay despite Hollywood opportunities after releasing his debut narrative feature The Weather Station. He sought to film a personal story set in his adoptive home Moscow, one that would touch upon its myriad complexities. So he wrote a sprawling character study following multiple members of and in close proximity to two families on the year’s celebratory “City Day.” Think Crash and its emotion-heavy propulsion, the whole steeped in slice of life…

Read More

REVIEW: Трудно быть богом [Hard to Be a God] [2014]

“Don’t drink. I only sniff now.” There’s a plot inside Aleksey German‘s final film Трудно быть богом [Hard to Be a God]—an audacious sci-fi epic slinging mud and feces in our faces while everyone onscreen sniffs them like drugs until we’re involuntarily following suit. No really, there is. Well, maybe a lingering vestige of what Arkadiy and Boris Strugatskiy‘s original novel contained that the 74-year old auteur (who’d wanted to adapt it since the 60s before finally completing it after a decade-long production process ultimately ending in his death from…

Read More

REVIEW: Левиафан [Leviafan] [Leviathan] [2014]

“These animals are not the whole town” It doesn’t get much bleaker or more cynical than Andrey Zvyagintsev‘s Левиафан [Leviathan]. He and cowriter Oleg Negin were inspired by many stories—”killdozer” rampage orchestrator Marvin Heemeyer, the Bible’s Job and King Ahab, and Heinrich von Kleist’s novella Michael Kohlhaas—all of which I know nothing about. Reading a little of Heemeyer’s tale, however, has me believing each dealt with the tragic circumstances befalling common man and the uphill climb necessary to overcome oppression. Whether met with economic, bureaucratic, or personal turmoil, there comes…

Read More

TIFF14 REVIEW: Liompa [2014]

“We’ve gained the control and lost the music” Adapted from the 1928 short story by Yuri Olesha, Elizabeth Lazebnik‘s Liompa gives us a glimpse at the differing stages of life. We may only hear from the dying Ponomarev (Aleksey Serebryakov) as he refuses to cope with the fact he’s lost all control over the world around him, but there are also two more characters one could see as stepping stones of evolution still caught in the hold of reality’s grip. Alexander (Stepan Serebryakov)—for example—has just come of the age where…

Read More

REVIEW: Белый тигр [White Tiger] [2012]

“Even I’m not old enough to know what happened” It’s a unique treat any time a film depicting World War II doesn’t center on the Holocaust or American forces storming the beaches of Normandy. Honestly, these are the two subjects we in the United States learn during our public school education because we frankly don’t need more detail unless delving deeper into the war becomes our dissertation in college. So the fact Karen Shakhnazarov‘s Белый тигр [White Tiger] concerns Western Europe’s Great Patriotic War between Russia and Germany makes it…

Read More

REVIEW: Le Concert [The Concert] [2009]

“This is the real communism” By no means as madcap as I had been under the impression it would be, Radu Mihaileanu’s Le concert [The Concert] is most definitely the uplifting comedy it’s American poster proclaims. The laughs it elicits are often earned by scenes hiding truths, their revelations the joke, and absurd nonsense during the chaotic whirlwind of three days in Paris to ready for a sold out concerto featuring ‘The [Russian] Maestro’, famously embarrassed in a public assassination on stage thirty years previous, and the incomparable Anne-Marie Jacquet,…

Read More

REVIEW: Край [Kray] [The Edge] [2010]

“I’ve never seen you smile. It suits you.” World War II is over and Siberia still holds its Russian prisoners with nowhere to go. They have stayed in a prison camp without guards, living the best way they can in a logging community that survives on its single train. Ignat (Vladimir Mashkov) is a war hero for Russia, but an accident put a hole in his head and a tendency for blackout seizures, banning him from driving the locomotives as he always had, sending them to their tipping point in…

Read More