Like its double-entendre title, “Makarov” is a richly layered film that juxtaposes the tradition of image-laden Russian poetry against gritty, crime-infested, post-revolutionary Moscow. Guns have replaced language as the forbidden source of power. Whispers in dark corners and encounters with back-alley thugs create an edgy mood that sets the story on its well-paced spiraling descent. Discomfort factor limits film’s international appeal beyond the arthouse circuit.
Makarov is the name of both central characters: a Russian poet (Sergej Makoveckij) with writer’s block and the hand pistol he buys. “Need a Makarov?” hisses a black marketeer to the surprised poet.
And the question reverberates throughout the film: Does Russia need its poets? Or its guns? Echoing sounds build a tension and fear that overcome the poet’s initial resistance, and he pays the demanded 10,000 rubles — the payment from his just-published book of poetry. So begins his deception.
At their home, Makarov’s wife reads him a poem about a bullet destined to find its target. “Maybe it’s better when ignorance is bliss,” she recites as Makarov hides hisMakarov in the toilet tank. This technique runs throughout the film, with characters quoting poetry that enhances or comments ironically on the action. And, in a recurring image, Makarov catches sight of himself in the mirror, forcing him to reflect on what he is becoming.
While family, friends, even strangers urge him to go on with his writing, Makarov becomes more obsessed with the gun, which seems to take on a life of its own, He sculpts the gun’s impression from the pages of a poetry book and hides it there, the gun literally replacing poetry.
Jagged, pulse-driven music and crashing glass accompany Makarov’s tensed-wire emotions. Fine score and solid technical credits enhance the film, but Russian poetry steals the movie.