A strange thriller with a kinky, as well as political, bent, “Russian Meat” is the feature debut of Croatian helmer Lukas Nola, who began the film in 1994 and claims it was necessary to make it outside the usual channels in his home country (even though the government paid to blow it up to 35 mm). A political hot potato on home turf due to the spotlight it throws on arms smuggling activities of Italian and Croatian criminals as well as of the police, pic has fine thesping, well-rounded characters and some shocking encounters that could give it at least some fest legs, with slight possibility of coin emerging from a few territories. Smaller English-language distributors might take a look.
Film opens and closes at an official “testimony,” where Ida (Barbara Nola) recounts her experiences among criminal elements and links them with the Serb invasion of a Croat town. Ida’s sister, Laura Palamar (obvious reference to “Twin Peaks'” Laura Palmer), had mysteriously died in a brothel in which she worked, and Ida, guilt-ridden over her refusal to help her sister years before, decides to become a hooker to solve what she believes to be a crime.
Ploy pits her against the notorious Vuk (Ivo Gregurevic), a sadistic cokefiend and head of the house. Vuk is engaged in other criminal activities, and the authorities know it. Before long, Hrvoje (Goran Grgic) joins the house as a supervisor, but he is in fact a police officer.
Predictably, he and Ida, the two interlopers, uncover each other’s true motives — and each other. To Ida’s consternation, Hrvoje is as adamant about allowing arms smuggling to continue as are the crooks he’s shadowing. Only Ida seems to have a conscience about the illicit military supplies.
Tale comes to head when the manic Vuk, in brief succession, brutally tortures and kills a young prostitute who was willing to go on record about the actual fate of Ida’s sister, murders a man from a government ministry and gets involved in a massacre between Italian and Croatian criminal gangs.
Except for an occasional over-the-top sequence (the final criminal shoot-out) , Nola controls the action with an alternating rapid and slow pulse. He brings out a full-bodiedness in the community of bordello women (the Russian meat of the title), whether he shows their cat fights or their reciprocal support.
Nola is superb as Ida, providing sensuality and ambiguity that expand the part, notably in the way Ida occasionally gets deeply involved in the role playing of her adopted profession. Gregurevic makes a scary Vuk, and Grgic is a competent Hrvoje.
Slaven Zecevic’s editing keeps film on track, and Boris Runjic minimalistic, tick-tocky score works well with the often unpredictable drama. Unfortunately, penultimate sequence involving an exploding car is so incredible that it damages the whole enterprise, especially the final scene.