Sort of a cross, plotwise, between “Trainspotting” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” Russian drama “Me” follows an 18-year-old druggie’s efforts to dodge national service by feigning madness in the early 1990s. Sadly, its characters are not quite as outrageously costumed and made up as those in helmer Igor Voloshin’s previous feature “Nirvana,” but pic still has plenty of style and sass, and the script’s better this time. “Me” has the makings of a cult hit at home among young audiences and would make ideal fodder for midnight movie slots at offshore fests.
Glasnost has arrived. The Soviet Union is about to break up, and old conventions are breaking down. A gang of young people in Sevastopol enjoy their newfound freedom, getting high on the drugs newly flooding the market and wearing punk gear 10 years after everyone in the West has moved on to other fashions.
Pic’s adolescent protagonist, Geroi (beaky but charismatic Artur Smolyaninov), is drawn into their circle and eventually becomes good friends with the gang’s leader and chief drug dealer, Rumin (Aleksey Gorbunov), who’s first seen arriving at a party in slow-mo, surrounded by babes, dressed in finest gold and sequined bling. (Voloshin likes this sequence so much, he shows it twice.)
However, when Geroi is called up for national service, his only way out is to either appear mad or convince the authorities he’s gay. Opting for the first, he’s sent to one of those horrifically dilapidated mental hospitals that are always showing up in Russian movies. Life’s no picnic in the nuthouse under the stern rule of chief doctor Elizabeta (Anna Mikhalkova, who also produced). Fortunately, Geroi meets and woos beautiful nurse Nina (Oksana Akinshina, “Lilya 4-Ever,” “Hipsters”).
The story skips around quite a bit, taking in subplots about Rumin and some of the other characters, and occasionally bursting into the odd fantasy sequence, such as one fab interlude in which Nina lip-syncs to “Venus.” All this somewhat disguises fact that the script, despite its earthy, often funny dialogue, is a rather shambolic affair, but nonetheless sharper than the melodrama of “Nirvana.” That said, the larky atmosphere gives way at the end to an elegiac tone in which the deaths of several characters are foretold.
Suspicion grows — especially given the pic’s title and the fact that helmer grew up in Sevastopol — that it’s all a bit autobiographical. Direction certainly feels impassioned and personal, and Voloshin’s talent for visual excess is much in evidence. Perfs are solid, if not outstanding.
Tech credits reunite most of the key craftspeople from “Nirvana” with impressive results, especially in the lighting and lensing department under Dmitri Yashonkov. Soundtrack, chosen by music supervisor Alexander Kopeykin, reps the right kind of retro.