After getting into a serious car accident, a TV director discovers an underground sub-culture of scarred, omnisexual car-crash victims who use car accidents and the raw sexual energy they produce to try to rejuvenate his sex life with his wife.
In London, the Russian pregnant teenager Tatiana arrives bleeding in a hospital, and the doctors save her baby only. The Russian descendant midwife Anna Khitrova finds Tatiana's diary written in Russian language in her belongings and decided to find her family to deliver the baby, she brings the diary home and ask her uncle Stepan to translate the document. Stepan refuses, but Anna finds a card of a restaurant owned by the Russian Semyon inside the diary and she visits the old man trying to find a lead to contact Tatiana's family. When she mentions the existence of the diary, Semyon immediately offers to translate the document. However, Stepan translates part of the diary and Anna discovers that Semyon and his sick son Kirill had raped Tatiana when she was fourteen years old and forced her to work as prostitute in a brothel of their own. Further, Semyon is the dangerous boss of the Russian mafia "Vory v Zakone", jeopardizing the safety of Anna and her family. Meanwhile, Semyon's ... Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
deep in rich characterizations, unpretentious in style, perfect performances, one of the year's best!
David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises takes on, in the broadest stroke, the Russian mafia. But it's not that broad, per-say, so much as it takes on the atmosphere of an organized crime family, of the terror that is just completely seething under the surface, and comes up like pus out of a boil when heated. The Russian underworld of London isn't too pretty, and rivalries are settled often with the slice of a throat by a shaving knife (as happens towards the beginning of the film, and later on in a graveyard, put to a splendid jump-cut to an accordion player), with the members initiated through specific tattoos on the torso and knees. And when the most unexpected happens, like a terrible rape/pregnancy/birth via a 14 year old girl, the repercussions could be even more severe than a murder rap. I loved getting immersed into the nature of the people, of the violence, the threat of it, the joys submerged with lots and lots of vodka (it could be a stereotype, but then what would a stereotype be if it weren't true in the ugliest form), and at the same time always outsiders to British society.
It's an insulated world, where double-edged personalities are common, especially if a crime boss/father like Armin Mueller-Stahl's character Semyon and at one time he has to be kind and compassionate to those outside of the circle. Like Naomi Watts's midwife character, who first comes to him about this mystery baby and a girl's diary written in Russian. But there's always the sensation, even early on, that he's a lot more sinister, a lot more cruel and vicious than he would let on to any "ordinary" person, and this is all the more apparent in his quick outbursts against his son Kirill (Vincent Cassell). Kirill, of course, is like a lone black sheep of the family, who gets into trouble with other families, usually through killing somebody in all late hours of the night. Nikolai (Mortensen) is the driver/bodyguard/foot-soldier to Kirill and the rest of the family, and has a bond that goes beyond what Kirill has- he's really like a 'good' son, if anything at all, to Seymon. Some of the best scenes in any Cronenberg film are those that are filled with an unspoken tension, and understanding of the dynamics, when Nikolai settles a situation between Seymon and Kirill, or those subdued homo-erotic moments from Kirill to Nikolai.
Many of those scenes, the whole story arc of Nikolai, is a truly compelling tale that soon reveals itself- and not to reveal too much here as to make it spoiling- as part of Cronenberg's aesthetic of the double-sided nature of a man, or the duality inherent in certain types. But suffice to say, it's one of the coolest examples, even if it might seem almost conventional at first, because of what Nikolai's future will come to following the fight he has in the steam-house. While we see the more emotional story of Anna who, like Nikolai, is an outsider who is put into a somewhat torn situation (albeit Nikolai, unlike Anna, is far more cunning, and as he says to her at one point he is a 'bad' guy), her side of the story is more of something to keep things moving along- the fate of the diary, the baby, the whole ball of wax of secrets surrounding the mother's death and so on. This is all still compelling, in sad voice-overs, but somehow Anna's side is more of a base-line to the saga of the Russian family, which is appropriate. Her ending, which seems tidied up on the surface, has an open-ending that feels almost TOO tidy- however if you're thinking that ambiguity is lacking, it actually nears up to what History of Violence offered in a 'what next' kind of query to the audience.
As modern thrillers should be, as Cronenberg and his screenwriter knows, Eastern Promises is efficient, startling, and often as entertaining as the goofiest moments of any film by the director. Only here its in little moments of dialog (was Anna's uncle in the KGB...maybe not, but as an auxiliary?), not so much in outrageousness or super-gore. And yet it's also probably even more violent, if only in the suddenness, than History of Violence; the much hyped steam-room right with Mortensen fending off the two gangsters lives up to it, as it's as visceral as Oldboy's classic sequence, and with an energy and shock value that made everyone in the audience I saw it with yelp and cringe. But Cronenberg isn't simply going by shock value here- Eastern Promises is very strong as classic storytelling, and even better in the acting department. Mortensen is one of Cronenberg's very best male collaborator/stars, and here his work is, if anything, more subtle and textured than the last one (which is saying a lot of both director and actor); Mueller-Stahl gives maybe his best performance since the 80s, a sure Oscar contender if I've ever seen one; Watts is sublime in a role that requires her mostly to be uneasy around Russian mobsters and frightened by the fear all around the situation; Cassell is about as taut as can be imaginable, and at the same time projecting the pathetic subtext to Kirill's boasting masculinity and stupidity.
If you're planning on seeing any crime movie this year- that isn't directed by the Coen brothers- and one that is atmospheric without hyper-stylization, and grips the intellect just as much as the emotions, Eastern Promises is it. In a career of some of the most challenging probes of men on the edge of sanity and/or reason, Cronenberg continues to strike where the iron is hot, or just not seen to even be considered grounds for striking at all.
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