Oddly mesmerizing even though its elliptical plot will be a hard slog for non-Russian speakers, “The Rascal” reps a promising feature debut by shorts helmer Tanya Detkina, a former intern of established arthouse helmer Alexei German (“Khrystalyov, My Car!”) whose influence here is palpable, not least on the pic’s monochrome look. Napoleon Dynamite-lookalike Maxim Roganov stars as a disturbed country-house caretaker seeking revenge on a family who sacks him, while a menagerie of non-pro thesps and scene-stealing animals fill out the cast. “Rascal” lacks the wiles to attract distribution outside Russia, but will probably enticemore fests this year.
Somewhere in the Russian countryside, gangly young Pashka (Roganov) is awakened from an erotic dream — or flash-forward — by the arrival of his boss Komov (Vladimir Bublikov) who tells him to pack his bags and go, since the family who owns the dasha is expected shortly. Pashka shovels his stuff and two mewling cats into a car, but steals back into the house to plant a small bomb in a teddy bear, hoping to kill the family’s dog. Instead, the teddy (named Aloysius, and with a spooky ability to speak in voiceover) is adopted by little Vaska, who carts it around the house while his mother Natasha (Svetlana Malyisheva) has mechanical sex with Pashka in an upstairs bed, all the time complaining about her husband Alek (Sergei Vishnyevski).
Much of the above is only clarified by pic’s catalogue entry, since what’s on screen often seems like a baffling string of narrative non sequiturs, with no explanation given as to why Pashka plants the bomb, for example, or what motivates local shopkeeper Maria (Yana Galina) to ask him to dread her hair, or what the significance is of the river building site often seen in cutaway.
Nevertheless, Detkina manages to generate droll humor from her languorous tracking shots of characters going about their strange business, while shots of the cats, dog, a ferret and some goats perhaps unintentionally up the cute quotient while seeming to serve a symbolic purpose of sorts. Mention is made of Pashka dodging his national service, so perhaps allegory is intended, but by the end, pic’s mannered weirdness becomes more irksome than enthralling.
Tech credits are par for the low-budget Slavic course, especially an annoying tendency to post-dub the dialogue. Black and white lensing by Dobrinia Morgachyov looks pretty, and meshes well with wacky op-art wallpaper and rugs in the dasha itself.