Established Russo TV scripter Alexander Veledinsky offers a sturdy feature debut in “Russkoye,” a serio-comic portrait of the artist as a young hooligan, adapted from the autobiographical writings of controversial scribe Eduard Limonov. Story of tough-but-soulful anti-hero who ends up in the loony bin after a suicide attempt is nothing new, but charismatic central perf by rising thesp Andrei Chadov (star of Alexei Balabanov’s “War”) merits a look, particularly by casting agents in search of young Slavic talent.
It’s 1959, the time of Sputnik and Khrushchev’s “thaw,” in the provincial town of Kharkov. Eduard, aka “Edichka” (Chadov), a wannabe teenage poet, spends more time hanging with his flyboy buddies, talking trash about Elvis Presley, and pining for pretty but snooty Sveta (Olga Arntgolts) than he does studying for his exams. Mom Raisa (Evdokiya Germanova) and her cop b.f., Mikhail (Mikhail Efpremov), who may or may not be Eduard’s father, nag him and fret about his future.
Their worries are justified. Eduard is prone to get involved in street riots and one night breaks into a grocery story, searching for funds to help woo Sveta. When he spots the teenage temptress walking out with a rival, Eduard contemplates killing her, but instead makes a half-hearted attempt at slitting his wrists.
Mom has him committed to the infamous Savenko asylum, which in the past was a temporary home to several real-life poets such as Velimir Khlebnikov. The place becomes Eduard’s university and proving ground, as he bonds with the likable, not-very-crazy nut mix.
Veledinsky, best known for co-penning popular TV shows like “Brigade” and “Law,” crafts a pleasingly coherent, albeit unavoidably episodic, narrative out of several of Limonov’s Beat Generation-influenced books. Written in exile and banned for many years in the Soviet Union, these featured an expressive prose style and untranslatable, slang-stuffed banter — which Veledinsky has faithfully transposed here.
Helmer shows a real flair in key set pieces, such as a street riot that glides into slow-mo when a crazy old woman is attacked by the police, and an impressively staged fire at the asylum in pic’s latter stages.
Pic is a showpiece for the talents of young Chadov, onscreen for nearly the entire film, and convincingly making the transition from callow youth to embittered, damaged young man. A touch cross-eyed but still fetchingly handsome, he has the strutting air of a young, slim Leonardo Di Caprio.
Lenser Pavel Ignatov manages to cast light glints in the actors’ eyes, and favors glowering, darkly-lit compositions. Color palette tends toward sepia, with bright splashes of Communist red dotted around the clothes and sets.
For the record, the real Limonov, now back in his homeland, is a leading light of the kooky, ultra-nationalist National Bolshevik Party, and was recently imprisoned on terrorism charges, then released. Though pic features one rough-skinned thug who talks down Slavic courage but gets his comeuppance eventually, Veledinsky mostly keeps politics out of the film, apart from the obligatory potshots at the repressive ways of the former Soviet regime.
Title literally means “Russian.” An official English title has yet to be decided on.