Straddling the border between film and filmed theater, director Boris Blank’s new version of the Bertolt Brecht classic never lets the audience forget the work’s theatricality, but still manages to conjure up a moody, nocturnal atmosphere on celluloid. Pic is likely to appeal more to legit students than movie crowds, but sharply honed production values should earn it some fest mileage.
As in the play, story follows the rise of a nobody, Arturo Ui (played with precision by Aleksandr Filipenko), to absolute power by appealing to people’s basest instincts. Originally written as a thinly veiled critique of Hitler, “Arturo Ui,” in Blank’s handling, contains refs to Stalin’s mass executions and to the Nationalists and Communists who would retake control of Russia today.
Highly stylized production has actors performing in white, masklike makeup with such expressionist touches as blue lips. Most of the action is filmed in a warehouse, with a few rainy, nighttime exteriors adding to the chilly, claustrophobic mood.
Script is often joltingly contemporary, with references to local Mafia extortion and economic hardship. Some slogans –“There’s a need for a firm hand, a fist of steel,” and “Great sacrifices are needed”– come straight from recent Russian campaign speeches.
The addition of popular songs by Russo folk singer Yevgeni Rein will jar Brecht fans accustomed to Kurt Weill’s edgy score. But the lyrics are generally faithful to the spirit of the original.