It had to happen sooner or later: a Russian film populated by popular entertainment icons. Something so seemingly easy to swallow is actually quite a bitter pill.
Director Vasily Pichul, known for the seminal LITTLE VERA, which threw open the doors to a new sexual and linguistic frankness in Russian cinema, has undermined himself with a flashy new picture which is all money, and thoroughly devoid of substance.
It makes the phrase 'New Russian Cinema' a sarcastic double-entendre, as it seems to pander almost exclusively to gum-chewing, cell-phone toting flatheads.
Pichul's new film, THE SKY WITH DIAMONDS opened in St. Petersburg at the chronically mis-managed Aurora cinema in October of 1999. It stars popular (and unappealing, obnoxious) TV and radio personality Nikolai Fomenko as a foundling dubbed Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, who grew up to be a criminal and would-be writer who escapes from prison, only to get involved in a fresh series of lawless misadventures.
In the film's opening scene he forces a publisher to read his science-fiction romance manuscript at gunpoint. His nemesis is a gruff, aging police investigator played by perennial favorite Valentin Gaft, who probably took his money and ran after seeing this film. His character captures Chekhov and throws him in prison. While in the slammer, he is visited by a pretty female harpist (the pouting and preening pop star Angelika Varum) who is a fan of his book.
After escaping, he comes back and kills his publisher, whose office is now stacked full of surplus copies of his novel. After robbing a Western Union branch, he winds up taking his wounded buddy and accomplice (in a turn of seemingly arbitrary casting, played by the disagreeable musician Garik Sukachov) to the hospital. The buddy dies, and his attention is caught by a man who is howling in pain as he suffers from a stomach ulcer. This leads to him retrieving a suitcase full of diamonds that the man was supposed to deliver, which various interested parties are after.
One of these includes a female gangster (Alla Sigalova), the harpist's dragon lady sister, who, later on in the film, turns out to be a hood with heart.
Thankfully, not all of the women are furniture in the film, although there is enough in that department to make one cringe. Wispy-voiced pop star Varum is all candy-ass elegance, and portrays an inspired musician in name only. Anna Mikhalkova, Nikita MikhalkovÕs daughter, plays the investigator's rubenesque assistant who is also his and the Chekhov characterÕs sex toy. What a disgraceful, thankless role, especially after her somewhat dignified turn in her fatherÕs film THE BARBER OF SIBERIA.
The one bright spot in the film is Sigalova, who brings veritable venom to her role, but somehow manages to come off as intelligent and appealing at the same time. She steals the show, though in this case it's petty larceny.
The plot is contrived from start to finish, and fleshed out with an oversimplification which would make even Hollywood execs squirm. While the red and blue lighting and flamboyant camerawork give it some gloss, it's like a rococo box with nothing in it, which about perfectly describes the tastelessness it exemplifies. It is a mix tawdry, cliched, typically grandiose new Russian values, such as sappy sentimentality, living in a garishly ornate mansion, driving around in a black Mercedes, overusing the cell-phone, aiming for literary recognition, pursuing the Nobel Prize, etc.
Fomenko's two-bit character set out on his hijinks with the misguided perception that he is a great writer. The makers of this film suffer from the same affliction. It's absolutely morally bankrupt, and isn't even satire, if that was the intent. One can only hope that this shameful pap will not be shown much in the West.
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