Monday, August 14, 2006

Fantasia Screeners: Junk

I'm doing something odd here, re-watching the film as I write the review. I watched it at eleven o'clock Friday night, went to bed right after, and didn't retain it that well. I remember the basic structure, but some of the details fled my mind. So, as I start to write this, it's eleven o'clock again, but Sunday night, and I've thrown it back in the DVD player to re-watch while writing the review. I figure I've got enough sugar in me to keep me up and get something movie-related done this weekend.

I kind of wonder if the Russian film industry could become an international powerhouse, like Hollywood. There's a population large enough that big-budget extravaganzas could potentially break even domestically, neighboring countries that speak either Russian or slavic languages close enough for subtitles to be a minor nuisance, and maybe an economy that is edging ever-closer to being robust enough to fund blockbusters without partnering with an American studio. Not today, but maybe in five or ten years. On the other hand, I imagine Hollywood may be enough of a juggernaut that it's not possible for Russia (or India or China) to even displace it a little.

Junk (Zhest)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 11 August 2006 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia Screeners 2006)

There's something great to be said for misleading trailers. A subtitled preview for Junk must have played in front of at least ten movies that I saw in the festival's main theater over the first week, highlighting a bunch of characters and their roles - The Reporter, The Editor, The Cop, The Psychologist - implying that they'll have the same relative importance, even if they have different agendas. I got so thoroughly conditioned to expect that sort of movie that the turn it takes about half an hour in caught me completely flat-footed, which is a nice place to be in when watching a suspense film.

After an opening sequence with the incident that caused Pravda crime reporter Marina (Yelena Babenko) to quit the job, her former editor (and lover) Sasha (Anatoli Belyj) asks her to cover one last story - interview a high-school teacher who abused and killed several of his students. The mental hospital's head doctor (Sergei Shakurov) says to come back tomorrow, but when she does, the man has escaped. A Moscow cop by the name of Pavel Petrovich (Vyacheslav Razbegayev) leads the pursuit, with Marina tagging along. The fugitive flees into a dacha village, eighty square kilometers of mostly-abandoned houses on quarter-acre locks, filled with squatters and other dangerous men. Marina and Pavel wind up stranded there when Pavel crashes the car, and capturing the fugitive soon takes a back seat to just getting out.

It's a good basic adventure storyline, and the inevitable intersection of the various folks on the run - the killer from the police and the reporter from the criminal elements is reasonably smooth. Director and co-writer Denis Neimand occasionally gets a little too arty for his own good, though. Take the trailer's money-shot, for instance, with Marina jumping into a lake from an exploding house, with a flaming car landing behind her. Great shot, and then later it runs in reverse, and a pair of thugs we'd seen in the house (Yusup Bakshiyev and Igor Lifanov) show up alive and apparently unscathed to harass Monica. So, what is this - a director trying to have it both ways, a drug-induced hallucination, a comment that we can't know the whole truth from just one side of the story? Maybe all three, and it kind of works that way, but it also kind of confuses. The last act feels a bit sloppy to me, too, and not just because of some dodgy effects work in the final scene. Part of the idea, I know, is that Marina's seldom in control, but she becomes just a little too peripheral to the final action.

Read the rest at HBS.

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