A post-Soviet Russian poet (Vladimir Epifantsev) discovers his own uselessness to a generation that chooses Pepsi, and takes a job at a kiosk, selling condoms and cigarettes to the newly capitalist masses. It isn't long before the world of buyable crap gets to him and he's reading his customers' hands to determine just how much he can short-change them. Naturally, he winds up an ad man. But because this is Russia, his best work is also his most cheerfully nihilistic. The film never pauses to congratulate itself on its bleak, black humor, but plunges steadily deeper into the machinery of manipulation — politicians are products, too, after all, and nations are just brands. And all the while, our hero gradually ascends his own personal Tower of Babel, there to bed the goddess Ishtar and unravel the terrible mystery at the heart of life. Director Victor Ginsburg works hard with what he's got to produce a wild ride of a film — the intellectual equivalent of courting death in order to feel more alive. 2011.

3.0 stars

— Matthew Lickona

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