In vet Russian helmer Dimitry Meskhiev’s bleak comedy, “Man at the Window,” an aging sad-sack actor prefers fantasy to reality, neglecting his wife and work to stare out the window and fabricate stories about the people below. As in Fritz Lang’s “Woman in the Window,” a chance encounter with a mysterious lady and her gangster lover plunges the ineffectual dreamer into multifarious illegal dealings. But here, in a weirdly upbeat twist, the hero’s descent into crime leads not to ruin but renewal. The pic’s peculiar moral tone may not comfortably register as comic beyond Russian borders.
Second-string thespian Shura (Yuri Stoyanov) has basically checked out of his half-century-long existence, which is falling apart around him. His wife (Mariya Zvonaryova, in a perf that won her the Kinotavr fest actress award) has given up on him, embarking on an affair with his best friend Kazantsev (the excellent Sergey Garmash), star of the theater company. Shura’s career, never particularly stellar, is imperiled by his distractedness onstage.
A car accident sends Shura on a collision course with the lovely Sonia (Kristina Kuzmina), who is oddly attracted to this dumpy little man with a scrunch-eyed tic and an ingrained sense of chivalry. Following a convincing improv routine in which Shura threatens an unsuspecting party guest, Sonia’s shady boyfriend Stas (Vladimir Vdovichenkov) hires the actor to impersonate police and army officials in order to intimidate reluctant businessmen into doing his bidding.
Shura revels in his new life, acquiring an impressive wardrobe and stacks of money in the process. But his greatest satisfaction stems from recasting his part in altruistic terms, using his ersatz authority to “do good” by injecting admonitions and dictums about human dignity into his scripted scams.
Helmer Meskhiev extends the titular window conceit to visually encompass the entire film. Characters often communicate separated by glass, paradoxically appearing more connected when separated and watched from afar than when placed together in the frame.
The “man at the window,” a traditional job in certain Japanese corporations — an employee hired to report to nose-to-the-grindstone workers about what’s happening outside — provided director Meskhiev’s inspiration. Writer Ilya Tilkin conceived the role of Shura for Stoyanov, well-known to Russian auds as a player in a long-running sketch show where he habitually appeared in drag. While local auds will probably instantly comprehend the inherent comedy in such a role for Stoyanov, the character’s disorienting tonal shift won’t translate as well for others.