Capturing the tragicomic Wild West atmosphere of today’s Russia seems to be the aim of numerous films; “Lubov and Other Nightmares” is one of the few that succeeds without specifically trying. Director Andrei Nekrasov’s (“Love Is as Strong as Death”) subject is the bizarre relationship between filmmaker Alex, who narrates the entire story but is never seen, and Lubov, a traumatized female assassin who prefers dressing and loving as a man. Densely structured and shot, pic takes the viewer through layer upon layer of masquerade, corruption, sexuality and emotions. Challenging and offbeat in the extreme, it will need careful marketing to reach auds that can appreciate its intrinsic qualities.
Nekrasov himself does the ironic voiceover as Alex, a Russian living abroad who comes back to St. Petersburg to shoot a film. He is almost gunned down by a crazed young man with a mustache, but is spared and so gets acquainted with the cross-dressing Lubov.
A small misstep landed Lubov in jail years ago, and now she earns good money by killing for hire. Alex convinces her to play herself in his “documentary fiction” about Russia, including the most intimate shots of her private life.When Lubov’s ordered to murder a female politician, Alex persuades her to go to bed with the woman instead. The tail end of the film collapses into a fantasy that could have been avoided, as Alex takes his film to London and finds it’s too late to say good-bye.
Olga Konskaia, pic’s producer and leading actress, delivers a multifaceted, startlingly honest performance, which includes some intense sex scenes with women. As the vulgar but honest assassin Lubov, cast out from society and driven by her feelings, she embodies the victims of the new Russia with sad tenderness.
Cinematographer Michael Gobel works miracles with a small budget, creating a host of moods through expressive camera techniques. Not all of the film’s post-modernist conceits will work for all viewers, but there certainly are a lot to choose from. B&W footage and out-of-focus shots of the ’60s recall Alex’s childhood. Other bits are meant to shock, such as the add-on repertory material of destroyed Chechen cities littered with dead babies.
Film’s greatest flaw is its over-indulgence in offscreen narration, which overlays the visuals with a steady patter of words and creates an endless, unreadable stream of subtitles for non-Russian-speaking auds.