20 Cigarettes

20 Cigarettes


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Alexander Gornovsky’s debut feature is, in many ways, reminiscent of Michel Gondry - technically cutting edge and daring to the point at which the plot and characters start to play second fiddle.

Ilya Lubimov stars as Andrey, a thrusting Moscovite advertising executive, whose day becomes marked out by the cigarettes of the title – with the number on the packet he smokes throughout the course of the film diminishing with each fag he has.

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Andrey is not having a good day, although technically he should be. His wife is in labour and about to have a son, but his chances of getting to the hospital to be by her side are constantly thwarted by his job. His boss (Maksim Sukhanov) is an overbearing thug of a man who demands work comes first and when he falls foul of a client, the Yogurt Queen (Galina Tuyunina), he finds his job in jeopardy. As he races round the city with the help of his friend and colleague Boris (Oscar Kuchera), trying to secure his position, the decisions he makes with each passing cigarette drive him deeper into trouble and become increasingly morally dubious.

Set against the backdrop of modern Moscow, which Gornovsky paints as little more than a building site to the god of Mammon, the film boils down to the conflict of what comes first, career or ethics. Rather than being a straightforward drama, however, the action has a satirical slant, being intercut by advert-style vignettes at relevant moments, which end in a slogan, encapsulating the scene. In many ways this is a conceit too far, since its stylisation and the "magical fag packet" serve to push the audience away from the heart of the film.

The characters, with the possible exception of Boris, are tricky to engage with, since none have a great deal of depth. They feel like types, rather than flesh-and-blood people, particularly precocious teen Liza (Anna Slynko) who comes on to Andrey in a distinctly unlikely seduction scene. Part of the problem might be blamed on the subtitles, which are confusing at times, with the meaning lost in translation.

Despite its failings, this is still worth a watch for its wry examination of modern Moscow and if Gornovsky can rein in his flourishes a little, we’ll doubtless be hearing a lot more from him.

Reviewed on: 03 Sep 2008
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A day in the life of a smoking Muscovite executive.

Director: Alexander Gornovsky

Writer: Dmitry Sobolev

Starring: Ilya Lubimov, Maxim Sukhanov, Oscar Kuchera, Galina Tuyunina, Anna Slynko

Year: 2007

Runtime: 89 minutes

Country: Russia


Russian 2008

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