A bachelor finds himself forced to the edge of society in expressionistic Russian drama “Missing Man.” With its cruddy apartment blocks and absurdist escalation of misfortune, debut feature for TV-trained helmer Anna Fenchenko recalls many other wilfully oblique, downbeat arthouse pics from the territory, like “Help Gone Mad,” “Yuri’s Day,” or “Tale in the Darkness,” but this one is just a smidge more accessible. Not that it will go far beyond the fest circuit, while domestically it’s likely to get a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it release.
Lead character (deadpan Andrei Filippak), who remains unnamed until the very end, is a website designer who lives alone and a fairly spacious St. Petersburg flat with his cat and some expensive computer kit. Seeing off a friend at the bus station, the designer spots a neighbor’s teenage son, who’s about to board a bus out of town. The kid asks the designer to give an envelope to his mother.
The protagonist delivers the missive, but as if this act of kindness has somehow angered the gods, everything starts to go wrong after that. The mother reports the boy missing and the cops come to take a statement from the designer. Apparently suspecting him of wrongdoing, they demand he bring a statement to the station swearing he won’t leave town.
He duly delivers his statement, but when he gets home, his building is being demolished, a fact he was apparently warned about by mail but of which he took little notice. His family, who used to live in a neighboring flat, have already left. The wrecker assures him that his stuff has been moved to the new digs he’s been assigned in a suburb far away.
Turns out the place he’s been given to live in hasn’t even been built yet. When the man goes to the police for help, they try to arrest him for having left St. Petersburg. He escapes with the help of another guy (Rasim Dyafarov), and together they end up at some kind of illegal flophouse.
Events keep getting odder, but still stay just barely plausible, making for a rather stylized study of the fragility of the social fabric. One unopened letter or lost passport causes the whole thing to unravel, which isn’t at all implausible in modern Russia. And yet the protagonist takes his escalating troubles with no more than a rueful shrug, like a Buster Keaton playing Josef K in “The Trial,” a sign either of non-realist intent, Russian fatalism or bad acting — or perhaps all three.
Even so, helmer Fenchenko knows how to build tension, and even eke out a little humor from the situation. Often handheld lensing by Eduard Moshkovich enhances sense of discombobulation as do tonal rumblings on the soundtrack, so minimalist they can hardly be call music, by Andrei Sigle (a Sokurov alumnus, and also pic’s producer).