Genial comedy “Free Floating” flows pleasantly along with young slacker Leonid (Alexander Yatsenko) as he drifts through a series of odd jobs in the Russian heartlands by the banks of the Volga. Second feature by helmer Boris Khlebnikov, co-director of “Koktebel,” doesn’t really go anywhere, but the journey’s the thing. Tonally, the jaunt feels reminiscent of Nordic filmmakers like Aki Kaurismaki and Bent Hamer, with Chaplinesque gags and an off-kilter vibe that will appeal more to the indie movie crowd at fests and offshore venues than Russian hicks, though pic should fare fine domestically as a niche release.
Helmer Khlebnikov, who reaped the director gong at the recent Sochi fest, is one of the more promising talents to emerge from a young generation of Russian filmmakers interested in making artful yet accessible pics that are neither blatantly commercially oriented blockbusters nor the kind of obscure fare beloved by fest programmers. Whether local and offshore distribs can figure out the best way to market smart but softspoken pics like this one remains to be seen. Even though there’s little dialogue here, suspicion lingers that it would have better international prospects if it were in French.
Film’s picaresque adventure begins in an unnamed village where recent high-school grad Leonid (doughy-looking Yatsenko) is unenthusiastically employed at a factory. Highlight of his week is cycling miles with friends to a distant disco where they have to fight the locals to get in the door.
When the factory is suddenly shut down, Leonid sets off for the labor exchange in search of gainful employment. He tries being a shoe salesman, then a plasterer, but can’t stick at either job. The woman he sees every time at the exchange starts dishing out dressings down for his fecklessness.
He finally settles in with a road crew filling potholes. Last reels meander to a slow, not entirely satisfying halt.
“Floating” remains much lighter in spirit than the haunting, more tautly scripted “Koktebel,” but evidence here proves Khlebnikov to excel at one-scene vignettes executed with comic brio. A drunken, throwaway encounter between Leonid and a bearded man met on the road needing a light generates belly laughs.
Pic’s static setups, often taken in long shot, and use of Academy ratio recall silent-era staging. At the same time, the painstakingly painterly compositions in which the somewhat odd, even freakish looking, characters cavort, invoke the self-consciously white trash/down-home aesthetic of contempo arthouse hipsters like Harmony Korine (“Gummo”) and David Gordon Green (particularly his debut, “George Washington”), but without the melodrama. Helmer’s affection for and familiarity with these characters and their milieu ultimately shines through, but the class of people they represent might not find the portrait here entirely flattering.