A recollection from a Russian childhood becomes, in director Alexei Gherman's memory, a rambling fantasia of events in a small provincial town during the 1930s. The film is virtually plot less but rich in incidental detail, and like any nostalgic memory is oblique and selective, and often shadowed with a profound sense of regret. Viewers unfamiliar with Russian habits and history may be hard pressed to follow the director's near-documentary recreation of local events (spiced with occasional arcane, Fellini-esquire symbolism). What passes for a plot is allowed to develop in an offhand, almost inconsequential manner: an awkward love triangle shared by the title character (a local secret policeman) with a traveling actress and a journalist friend; a manhunt for an elusive criminal, and so forth. It's as if the characters were too personal for Gherman to see them become bogged down in a simple romance or conventional police procedural drama.
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