Though technically poor and dramatically erratic, this metaphoric, slightly surrealistic look at life in the Russian military packs a punch. Pic should raise some interest in arthouse circles and, because of its borderline homoeroticism, among gay and lesbian festivals.
To get Gorki Studios to invest, plus permission to use military locations, director Hussein Erkenov and writers Yuri Polyakov and Vladimir Golodov produced two fake scripts in addition to the real one. Result came as a shock to both the studio and the military. The 1990 pic has been screened in Russia, but its savagely anti-military tone meant it wasn’t seen outside Russia until Erkenov formed his own sales company and toted the reels to the Berlin fest this year. Film is less a protest against military life than a metaphor for people doomed to be victims of life rather than its masters. Instead of a plot, pic presents an assemblage of episodes with little or no dialogue. Characters are barracks soldiers without names who, for unexplained reasons, are driven toward darkly repulsive fates like suicide and public humiliation.
Episodes have no motivation or background, nor standard endings: The next one starts just before we learn the end or repercussions of the last. Each serves not to portray real characters or offer insights, but to portray a feeling of impending doom. Result is a kind of existential poem or epitaph to those who seemed doomed from the beginning without knowing why.
Because the actors play types rather than real characters, specific performances do not stand out among the wooden-faced cast. Tech credits are mediocre to poor, especially the lukewarm colors and uninteresting locations.
Still, as a director Erkenov succeeds in invoking a heady atmosphere and a meaty, homoerotic suggestiveness that lend a strange attraction to his characters’ piteous roads to self-destruction.