An elderly Uzbek patriarch travels to Moscow to look for his missing grandson, who came to the capital in search of employment, in road movie “Gastarbeiter,” a better-than-usual execution of a premise overworked in contempo Russian cinema. Although pic doesn’t stint on showing the hardscrabble existence led by immigrant workers (or “Gasterbeiters” in German) in the Motherland, established Uzbek writer-helmer Yusup Razykov threads this inherently grim subject with some gentle humor. At home, pic will struggle to find work even in specialty theaters but should find fest opportunities offshore.
Tashkent resident Sadik (Bakhadyr Boltaev), a retired soldier who fought in WWII, and his family are worried because they haven’t heard from Sadik’s grandson Aman ever since he went to Moscow to look for work.
In order to finance the long trip out west, Sadik agrees to be a mule for a local gangster and deliver a suitcase full of dope to an Uzbek dealer in the capital. Unfortunately for Sadik, Vika (Darya Gorshkaleva, sexy in a blowsy, miniskirts-and-platform-heels way), the dealer’s Moldovan prostitute g.f., is a snitch for the cops, and Sadik ends up getting arrested, although the corrupt cops eventually let him go.
Seemingly feeling guilty for getting Sadik in trouble, Vika offers to help him find Aman in the Moscow suburb where he was last known to be living. On the way, they pay another man a visit — a stopoff that initially seems a distraction, but its payoff underscores how migrant workers from what used to be the Soviet Union’s satellite states (such as Uzbekistan or Moldova) have been getting the short end of the stick for years.
There’s a smart twist toward the end involving a Russian woman (Natalia Grebenkina) who knows exactly where Aman is but won’t tell for her own reasons, but the heart of the film is the unlikely camaraderie between Vika and Sadik. Boltaev’s Sadik is perhaps a bit too impossibly noble and stoic, and far too young-looking to pass for a WWII vet, but he holds the center well. Rest of the ensemble is solid.
Mostly handheld HD lensing by Mikhail Iskandarov adds immediacy when the characters are on the move, but the deliberately cantered angles used at key moments look like dated affectations. Otherwise, tech credits are OK.