Original Russian language, English subtitles.
Not to be confused with other films of the same name.
Thanks to the excellent programming decisions of BBC 4, I was able to watch this film on TV, free of charge. Winner of Best Film at the London Film Festival, it had been on my list to watch for some time.
As I have mentioned previously, being unfamiliar with the actors makes such films all the more enjoyable, as I do not associate them with any other roles.
Set in the bleak northern regions of modern-day Russia, close to Murmansk, we are introduced to mechanic Kolya, his second wife Lilya, and his troublesome teenage son, Roma. They live close to the sea in a house Kolya has built, on land owned by his family for generations. Family life is not ideal. Roma doesn’t like his inoffensive stepmother, and Lilya is worn down by everyday life looking after her husband and his son, as well as working hard in the nearby fish-processing plant. Kolya is pestered by corrupt policemen who want him to work on their cars for free, and also troubled by a long-running court case. He drinks too much vodka, and is obsessed with his self-built house. To help him, his old army friend Dima is arriving from Moscow. He has now trained as a lawyer, and is sure that he can help with the impending court appearance.
The local mayor, Vadim, has ordered the compulsory purchase of Kolya’s house and land. On paper, he is pretending that this is necessary to build a new phone mast there, something needed by the town. But behind the scenes, the corrupt mayor is planning to offer the land to a hotel company, to build a luxury coastal resort complex there. By stating it is to be used for the phone mast, Kolya would only be entitled to basic compensation, nowhere near the true value of the house and land.
When Dima arrives, he tells them he has a plan. Smart and good-looking, with his sharp Moscow ways, Lilya is immediately attracted to him, and Roma likes him too. But when Dima tries to confront all the local officials with his detailed objections, his efforts are stalled by bureaucracy at every turn. Kolya becomes increasingly outraged by his treatment, and Vadim determines to rid himself of the troublesome Moscow lawyer.
This film is a visual treat. The unfamiliar harsh landscapes of the north coast of Russia play their part in the story, as well as making it good to look at. The daily grind of modern-day life in Russia is shown perfectly too, with the lot of the average workers basically unchanged since the fall of the old Soviet Union, and their problems now added to by the corruption that exists in every part of public life. From traffic cops taking bribes to supplement their low pay, to resurgent Orthodox priests exploiting their influence over the local people, and the mayor and his cronies acting little better than gangsters.
In the midst of all this, Kolya’s frustrations reach boiling point, and Dima tries to do deals with the mayor by making veiled threats about exposing corruption. Lilya is disenchanted with her new life as Kolya’s wife, and the friends of the family have their own vested interests to look out for. The film edges towards a dramatic climax, and had me gripped from the start. A fascinating insight into life in remote regions of Russia, with completely convincing characters. Highly recommended.
Here’s an official trailer.