A trucker stops off in his hometown where a feud between miners and townies simmers on without resolution in Russian helmer Svetlana Proskurina’s perplexing but strangely entrancing drama “Truce.” Picaresque in structure but lacking any sense of destination, the film is best enjoyed as a cinematic sketchbook, deliberately fragmentary in structure. Although thoughtfully made, well acted by a mix of pro and non-pro thesps, and slightly more accessible than Proskurina’s earlier films (“Remote Access,” “The Best of Times,”), “Truce” will strike an accord only with adventurous auds. Even at home, it faces a battle at the B.O.
Although the action veers off occasionally for short spells to follow other folk, pic’s main protagonist is Egor (Ivan Dobronravov, the now-all-grown-up younger brother in Andrei Zvyagintsev’s 2003 pic “The Return”), a trucker who shares company-owned digs in an apartment building occupied by a motley crew of fellow drivers (many of them truckers in real life).
After an assortment of odd, tone-setting mini-dramas in the first reel — involving a small fire, a naked prostitute locked out of a room and people falling out of windows — Egor is sent out on the road. It’s never quite clear whether where he ends up is his intended destination or just a pit stop, but he holes up in what appears to be his hometown, intending to find a wife. There he hooks up with his gangster cousins, his shady uncle (vet thesp Yuri Itskov) and his friend Gennadi (pop star Sergei Shnurov), who plans to write a memoir called the “The Boredom of Gennadi Sobatkin.” Unfortunately, he’s only composed the title so far.
Egor pays court to beautiful music student Katya (Nadezhda Tolubeeva). She’s happy to sleep with him on a Saturday because that’s the only day of the week there’s a truce (hence the title) in the hostilities between the local ore miners, to whom she belongs, and Egor’s city folk.
No reason is ever given for why the two factions are at war, but then not much else is explained, either. Instead, pic bobs along on a sea of its own surreality, sometimes sailing to idyllic inlets of beauty and humor, and sometimes hitting choppy, dangerous waters. Like many other Russian-language movies that feature characters traveling to small provincial towns (such as Ukrainian Sergei Loznitza’s recent Cannes entrant, “My Joy”), “Truce” considers sudden violence, crime and freak accidents such as electrocution par for the course of everyday life.
What saves “Truce” from being yet another dreary slice of Slavic miserablism is helmer Proskurina’s sly sense of humor and streak of lyricism. Even at the pic’s grimmest moments, such as a scene in which a gangster is tortured with boiling water, there’s room for situational comedy of a sort. Meanwhile, use of crane shots or low-angle lensing adds a sense of skewed perspective. Use of non-pro thesps creates a quasi-docu quality and, given that many have strange scarred or battered physiognomies, enhances the weird, unsettling atmosphere.
Pic won top prize at the Sochi Open Russian Film Festival, while star Dobronravov took home the gong for actor.