You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Fool’

Russian helmer Yury Bykov's forceful social drama pits an idealistic plumber against a system of corrupt bureaucrats, putting his life and those of 800 unsuspecting citizens on the line.

Artem Bystrov, Natalya Surkova, Boris Nevzorov, Kirill Polukhin, Darya Moroz, Yury Tsurilo, Irina Nizina, Alexander Korshunov, Maxim Pinsker, Sergey Artsibashev, Olga Samoshina, Elena Panova, Ilya Isaev, Dmitry Kulitchkov, Lubov Rudenko, Gordey Kobzev, Pyotr Barancheev.

Frank Capra would have approved of “The Fool,” a forceful Russian drama in which a lone plumber stands up to a corrupt system on behalf of the people living in a squalid apartment building. With giant cracks running from the foundation to the roof, the crumbling structure could be a metaphor for the country itself, insinuating that decades of embezzling and all-around mismanagement have left things in a precarious state. After playing Cannes with his previous feature, “The Major,” writer-director Yury Bykov delivers another major work, this one even more deserving of international attention, in festivals and commercial venues.

In a city where scarce financial resources are routinely diverted to benefit the bureaucratic fat cats at the top, one man risks upsetting the rickety house of cards to save a commune of ungrateful citizens. When a water pipe bursts in a 38-year-old apartment building, naive young handyman Dima Nikitin (Artem Bystrov) is called in to fix it. Instead, he discovers that after decades of neglect — during which officials rerouted renovation funds into their personal housing projects — the walls are likely to collapse before the day is done.

At first, Dima does what any of his colleagues would, leaving the problem for someone else to solve. (It’s not his district, after all. Why not let his drunken supervisor deal with it in when he sobers up?) But Dima finds that he cannot sleep, and after performing a few alarming calculations, he decides that the building’s 800-plus residents — a mix of deadbeats and addicts, like the loafers who haunt the halls of the Indonesian action movie “The Raid” — will likely perish in a massive cave-in if he doesn’t act immediately.

And so, acting against the objections of his protective wife (Darya Moroz) and nagging mother (Olga Samoshina), the idealistic young man resolves to track down the mayor, Nina Galaganova (Natalya Surkova), at 2 a.m. on the night of her 50th birthday party — the foolhardy equivalent of trying to confront an agitated lion in its lair. Though she listens with what appears to be genuine concern, Nina didn’t rise to her position by helping others. Rather, she is the most ruthless and jaded player in a hierarchy where corruption runs rampant, and in the end, she will do what she must to protect herself.

While Dima obstinately tries to persuade the mayor and her half-soused department heads — the chiefs of police, fire and other municipal works — to intervene and evacuate the building, Bykov expertly manipulates how we view Nina’s character from one moment to the next. The helmer shows exquisite control of the world he has created, offering Samoshina a role to rival Jacki Weaver’s late-career “Animal Kingdom” breakthrough, even as the actress risks overplaying her hand during a key monologue that indelicately spills everything her character is trying to conceal.

Opposite this shrewd operator, newcomer Bystrov — a hangdog hero whose brown eyes and high cheekbones suggest a young Josh Brolin — is like a deer in the headlights, wholly unprepared for the hellstorm his “shit stirring” is about to unleash. Kafka meets “The Sopranos” as Bykov creates a murky yet absurdist world of deep secrets and unmarked graves, where those who don’t play along can be made to disappear. What use is an honorable man in such a world?

The tragedy at the core of Dima’s foolish crusade is that he’s not looking for accountability — or, as the cynics around him believe, an opportunity for personal advancement — but merely wants to save the lives of the doomed souls endangered by the building’s imminent collapse. Perhaps this futile sense of optimism is what makes him a fool, like his father (Alexander Korshunov), who insists on replacing stolen light bulbs and repairing the bench the neighborhood kids vandalize on a daily basis.

Running just over two hours, the film hammers its themes a bit harder than necessary, spelling everything out through long, heated arguments (e.g. “There’s not enough of the good life to go around”). Despite the urgency Dima sees in the situation, Bykov gives the tense scenario room to breathe, alternating between pensive piano and more insistent electric guitar in an effective, low-key score that he composed himself. In one scene, a pop anthem plays as the determined hero walks from his apartment to the bar where he plans to confront Nina, a choice that may seem excessive to impatient audiences, but actually serves to reinforce his status as this rotten town’s lone conscience. While “The Fool” isn’t exactly a fable, it does serve as a wake-up call of sorts — and one whose relevance needn’t be limited to Russia, either.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'The Fool'

Reviewed at Locarno Film Festival (competing), Aug. 8, 2014. Running time: 121 MIN.

Production: (Russia) A Rock Films, New Projects production, with the support of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation. (International sales: Rock Films, St. Petersburg.) Produced by Alexey Uchitel, Kira Saksaganskaya. Executive producers, Elena Bystrova, Philipp Pastukhov. (Original title: “Durak”)

Crew: Directed, written, edited by Yury Bykov. Camera (color, widescreen), Kirill Klepalov; music, Bykov; production designer, Stanislav Novak; costume designer, Olga Pogodina; sound (Dolby Digital), Arkady Noskov.

With: Artem Bystrov, Natalya Surkova, Boris Nevzorov, Kirill Polukhin, Darya Moroz, Yury Tsurilo, Irina Nizina, Alexander Korshunov, Maxim Pinsker, Sergey Artsibashev, Olga Samoshina, Elena Panova, Ilya Isaev, Dmitry Kulitchkov, Lubov Rudenko, Gordey Kobzev, Pyotr Barancheev.

More Film

  • Running With the Devil review

    Film Review: 'Running With the Devil'

    A retired Navy SEAL who for a time was a military advisor on the Colombian drug trade, Jason Cabell conceived his first solo feature as writer-director to tell the story of that particular commerce “from the point of view of the drugs.” The result isn’t exactly a docudrama indictment like “Traffic,” a thriller a la [...]

  • Sweetheart review

    Blumhouse's 'Sweetheart' Sets October Digital Release From Universal (EXCLUSIVE)

    After making waves at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the Blumhouse project “Sweetheart” is set to hit digital and on demand platforms. Universal Pictures Home Entertainment will offer the film on all major streaming hubs and paid video on demand come Oct. 22, unleashing the creature feature which stars Kiersey Clemons in a harrowing tale [...]

  • Bob OdenkirkAFI Awards Luncheon, Los Angeles,

    Bob Odenkirk to Star in Thriller 'Nobody'

    “Better Call Saul” star Bob Odenkirk has signed on to star in the thriller “Nobody.” The Universal pic follows Hutch Mansell (Odenkirk), a suburban dad, overlooked husband, nothing neighbor — a “nobody.” When two thieves break into his home one night, Hutch’s unknown long-simmering rage is ignited and propels him on a brutal path that [...]

  • Demi Moore Corporate Animals

    Demi Moore Teases Upcoming Memoir 'Inside Out,' Talks 'Corporate Animals' Team Bonding

    As Demi Moore gears up for the Sept. 24 release of her autobiography “Inside Out,” the actress says she feels like a weight has been lifted. “Even the stuff that I may have been nervous about is completely lifting…because it’s a process,” Moore told Variety at the premiere of her upcoming film “Corporate Animals” at [...]

  • Bloodline

    Film Review: 'Bloodline'

    The manic, filter-free, all-id persona Seann William Scott embodied in the roles that first brought him to attention nearly a couple decades ago — notably teen comedies “Road Trip,” “Dude, Where’s My Car?” and the “American Pie” series — did something inspired with a familiar type. The alpha frat-bro character is usually a villain, or [...]

  • Jack Gilardi, Longtime ICM Partners Agent,

    Jack Gilardi, Longtime ICM Partners Agent, Dies at 88

    Jack Gilardi, a longtime ICM Partners agent who represented such stars as Burt Reynolds, Sylvester Stallone, Jerry Lewis, Charlton Heston and Shirley MacLaine, died Thursday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 88. Gilardi was known for his gentlemanly style, love of the Los Angeles Dodgers and his skill at representing top actors. He [...]

  • Depeche Mode - Dave GahanLes Vieilles

    Depeche Mode Documentary Gets One-Night Theatrical Release

    Depeche Mode has reunited with the group’s long-time filmographer, Anton Corbjn, for a combination documentary/concert film, “Spirits in the Forest,” which Trafalgar Releasing has announced it will put on approximately 2400 screens worldwide for one night Nov. 21. The film documents performance footage from the Berlin dates of Depeche Mode’s 115-gig Global Spirit Tour of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content