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This movie may not be a masterpiece, but it is surely a breath of fresh air, a relief from all the Hollywood nonsense, the various Spiderman and Pirates of the wherever, Harry Potter and the suchlike. To begin with, this documents a time in Russian history, I don't think such a movie could be made nowadays and if it were it would have to depict a reality, which, only a few years later, is already vastly different! Russian had their fleeting short summer of freedom, with politicians standing on tanks (paradoxically!), the White House of Parliaments being stormed by troops, and scores of bizarre and eccentric political figures taking center stage and being able to speak their own mind!. Most Russians were probably too busy putting food on their table at the time, to notice that that WAS actually gloriously anarchic FREEDOM! The story has the easy relaxed rhythm which characterize the best indie and world cinema, it does not try too hard, its strenght is being steeped in the social reality it depicts, and quite effortlessly maintain a pretty strong dramatic tension. I found myself caring about the main characters, bizarrely enough including the right-wing eccentric presidential candidate, who on the whole cuts a pretty lonely and pathetic figure, all the time trying to make reality conform to his grandiose delusions. A sexy Anna Friel represents the romantic interest and for Prison Break's fans there is the added bonus of catching up with a young Robert Knepper playing a fairly square and straight-laced journalist.
When Valdik and his friend Lyosha manage to film a bus on fire in the
middle of town, they try to sell it to an international television
company with offices in the area. They turn his tape down but it allows
him to meet the beautiful Helen who vetted his tape. He decides to try
and get more footage so he can try and sell it or, more importantly,
so that he can meet Helen again. In doing this he finds himself drawn
into an eccentric Nationalist politician (Yavorsky), who demands more
and more attention from him despite the station not being that
interested but, out of his control, he finds himself deeper than he had
planned to go to get Helen.
I knew nothing of this film when I taped it and it was only two things that made me bother: a) the fact that it was on BBC4, a channel that has delivered many great films to me over the past few months, and b) the fact that it was supposedly good enough to attract Friel to make it part of her career move into films. It opening interestingly enough and I was curious to see where it went but I was surprised to find it picked up threads that didn't actually go anywhere. It was described as a romantic drama and it was mis-sold it is not romantic and the very vague romantic thread is barely present for very long. What it does do is seem to make some parallels with real life that I didn't totally get and, as a result, didn't get involved one bit in the rest of the film. Maybe this is my fault for not knowing a great deal about the Chechen situation but surely the film should hang together without this knowledge or even help those without this knowledge to take a slight understanding from this film. Some other viewers may have a greater understanding of the situation and thus have understood the film but it is still a weakness that it just seemed unwilling or unable to help the casual viewer 'get it'.
The cast are fairly non-descript maybe partly as a result of me not getting into the film. The late Sergei Bodrov (killed young in an accident) has no real presence and can't seem to get a hold of his character for more than a few minutes at a time. Friel is barely in it and brings nothing to it do an internet search on this film and you'll only find references to her being naked, few to the film itself! Ilyin overplays his character and I'm told that it was based on a real person (who I don't know) he has a large character but I just didn't get into his thread at all (again maybe me not knowing what it was playing on) and his efforts appear silly rather than part of something.
Overall this was not an awful film but I do consider myself to have wasted 90 minutes. It didn't do anything of value and I never got into the story at any point truth be told. I concede that maybe I just didn't have the knowledge necessary to enjoy this film but I do feel that the film could have still stood on its own with this knowledge if it were any good or even it could have educated the casual viewer about the situation it seemed to be hinting at. The fact that it did neither of these things was just further proof to me of how it had failed and I was so bored by the end of it that nothing in the final 10 minutes ever made me react. Maybe this is Friel's revenge for all the teenagers who have watched her in things like this just to see her naked/kiss a girl/show her bum etc making them watch a poor Russian film just to see a little bit of skin!
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