(director: Ilya Khrzhanovskiy; screenwriter: Vladimir Sorokin; cinematographers: Shandor Berkeshi /Aleksandr Ilkhovskiy/Alisher Khamidkhodjaev; editor: Igor Malakhov; cast: Marina Vovchenko (Marina), Sergey Shnurov(Vladimir), Konstantin Murzenko (Marat), Yuri Laguta (Oleg), Irina Vovchenko (Prostitute), Svetlana Vovchenko (Prostitute); Runtime: 126; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Elena Yatsura; Vox Video/PAL; 2005-Russia-in Russian with English subtitles)

An unusual but incomprehensible, offensive and tedious sci-fi film that depicts Russia as a place of squalor and its citizens as depressed alcoholics.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The debut directorial venture of the 30-year-old Russian filmmaker Ilya Khrzhanovskiy(“Stop”) is an unusual but incomprehensible, offensive and tedious sci-fi film that depicts Russia as a place of squalor and its citizens as depressed alcoholics. The screenplay by avant-garde novelist Vladimir Sorokin keeps everything unnecessarily muddled and dreamlike, while the filmmaker relies more on shocking scary visuals than its slack story to gets across his agenda on the depraved human condition in Putin’s Russia. Whenever too much boredom sinks in, Khrzhanovskiy uses exploitative titty shots of star Marina Vovchenkoas a distraction.

At 3am three Russian strangers meet in a Moscow bar and tell lies about their lives, while a bored bartender nods out. The surly Vladimir (Sergey Shnurov)is a skinhead piano tuner who claims to be a lab scientist in a secret cloning program that began in 1947 that was never stopped and they make ‘doubles’ known as a Type 4 by injecting 4 chromosomes in one gene that produces two sets of identical twins. The attractive Marina (Marina Vovchenko) is a prostitute posing as an advertising executive selling a Japanese ‘feel good’ product named after a bird. And the third party is a middle-aged meat salesman, Oleg (Yuri Laguta), who claims that he’s a bureaucrat administrator in the Kremlin and his job is to make sure the President is supplied with bottled water. After telling their lies, the three strangers depart and go their separate ways. The meat vendor is surprised to learn about round piglets and the piano tuner is surprised to hear a bearded guy working on fish tanks tell him that a person can become anything, “a stray dog, a rag to wipe a pretty woman’s feet, a piece of meat . . . .

Marina learns that one of her four sisters, an identical twin, has died and travels by train to their rural slum hometown village of Shutilovo with boorish peasants dining on eggs. She’s joined in the village by her two other whore sisters (Irina Vovchenko and Svetlana Vovchenko) and they attend sister Zoya’s funeral. During a wake run by the old women peasants (the real-life crones of Shutilovo) in the impoverished farm community, things degenerate into a drunken and depressing look at life in modern Russia over the drinking of bad moonshine vodka and the sorrow that the village lost the artisan skills of the deceased who shaped the dolls into human figures from the chewing of bread and that there’s no one else to do that so the money brought in from their doll manufacturing will no longer keep them afloat.

The weird allegorical mystical film leaves us with stray dogs roaming the Moscow streets at night, the presentation of a slab of meet in a giant freezer that has not been inspected since the 1960s and is manufactured from leftover frozen meats, and many dolls strewn over a muddy farm field that have been chewed up by stray dogs.

There was much in this intense personal look at Russia that doesn’t translate well to foreigners and its humor totally eluded me but, even if that’s true, the film’s bleakness, madness and failure to communicate its enigmatic story left me too chilled to care what I might be missing. Though I must say this is a highly original work and if you can somehow get over the things that bothered me, you might get more out of the film than I apparently was able to on only one viewing. I certainly leave open the possibility that I missed things vital to the story, but I didn’t miss as to whether I was entertained or not.