No redeeming characters. Main “hero” is a boorish, highly unlikable, impulsive, and violent alcoholic. His wife is a whore who sleeps with his hotshot lawyer friend, who in turn scurries away back to Moscow as soon as the Chad corrupt mayor physically shows him who’s boss in his town. Almost everybody is some walking caricature of a dysfunctional, vodka-swilling, chain-smoking vatnik. I think the film meant to portray the mayor as the bad guy – the local representative of the Putin “power vertical” – but he at least built the degenerates he fleeced and presided over a beautiful church, so can he really be bad that? was my main thought as the ending panned out, judging the film on its own premises.
Caricature characters in a caricature Russia from a director who seems to have only a very vague idea of the “deep Russia” he wishes to engage in “soul searching” about.
The film is set in Teriberka, a small fishing village in Murmansk oblast that saw hard time after the collapse of the Soviet era fishing industry. However, it seems to have rather well for itself in the past decade thanks to tourism. (At any rate, I should imminently find out for myself).
Here are some specifics about Murmansk and the Russian North generally:
- It is Russia’s most atheistic region, more similar to the Baltics in that respect than south/central Russia (or indeed Ukraine/Belarus). You would certainly not see the ostentatious (hypocritical or not) Christianity portrayed in the movie amongst both proles to elites.
- There is little corruption in the Russian North. These pudgy bureaucrats presiding over local power verticals of police/judicial cliques are much more of a southern thing.
- There is actually very little electoral fraud in the Russian North. Its Russia’s only reasonably “clean” region in that respect, along with parts of Siberia.
- The film has people handing over wads of cash. Even in a detail as minor as this – 52% of transactions in Murmansk oblast in 2017 were with cash, vs. 65%-70% in the south.
- The one regional stereotype I suppose it did get right is that the north does a more pronounced alcoholism problem, which translates into more murders and suicides.
Maps confirming above sociological observations here: https://akarlin.com/ruriks-seed/
Still, as a movie that hit all the correct tropes about the “bleakness” and “misery” of life “outside Moscow” in “Putin’s Russia” it was not hard to see why it was such a hit with the Cannes crowd.
But it is also easy to understand why there was a mini-scandal about the fact that 35% of the movie was funded by the Russian Ministry of Culture. Pretty bizarre that Russian taxpayers were funding people who were portraying the great mass of them as stupid, impulsive alcoholics hoodwinked by priests serving mafia politicians for the snickering pleasure of the sort of people who delight in “arthouse” flicks. There is now happily much less Russian state support for “artists” who hate and despise their own people – and don’t have even the minimal talent to hide or disguise it.