AKafkaesque fantasy warmed by loopy humor and a luminous lead perf, tyro feature helmer Andrey Slabakov’s “Wagner” delights for some time — though this seriocomic whimsy goes on too long and ends on a note grimmer than the proceedings require or can support. Idiosyncratic, visually accomplished work deserves wide fest play nonetheless and suggests Slabakov as a talent to watch.
At a grimy, sweltering factory, worker Elena (Ernestina Chinova) learns that her dream has come true: After 11 years on the waiting list, she’s eligible to lease an apartment all her own. Pic’s remainder follows her knocking on tenants’ doors, begging for a piece of bread. Each encounter is stranger than the last, with a musical funeral production number, a murder and other disconcerting events making the building seem like a madhouse. Chinova’s lovely, natural perf provides counterweight to the general absurdism. But episodic narrative might have done better to stop well before a darker last lap that seems too harsh, even if it amplifies script’s underlying themes of bureaucratic and economic oppression. Visual design never wears out its welcome, however, with chiaroscuro lighting effects in lenser Voichen Todorov’s B&W images.