Cargo 200

Cargo 200


Reviewed by: Michael Pattison

As its title might suggest, referring as it does to the coffins in which Russian soldiers were returned home during the Soviet war in Afghanistan, Cargo 200 is lateral in its storytelling approach. In its opening third, Artem (Leonid Gromov), Professor of Scientific Atheism, arrives at a remote farmhouse just outside of Leninsk when his car breaks down at night. To the relentless chugging of the vicinity’s generator, he philosophises over vodka with the site’s owner, Alexey (Alexey Serebryakov), while Vietnamese worker Sunka (Mikhail Skryabin) tends to his car. Though tensions mount and a certain unease is established, Artem finally drives off, intoxicated.

The escalating sense of dread is largely due to the way in which writer-director Alexey Balabanov cross-cuts between two otherwise innocuous scenarios, whose juxtaposition in itself becomes a thing of purpose. Parallel to events at the farmhouse, we see Valera (Leonid Bichevin), a young handsome lad who is engaged to Artem’s niece, seducing his fiancée’s pal Angelika (Agniya Kuznetsova). In pursuit of more alcohol and a prolonged night of fun, Valera eventually drives with his seductee to the same farmhouse from which Artem has just left. There, he drinks himself to sleep; Angelika, petrified by the mysterious man wandering the grounds (Aleksei Poluyan), agrees to Alexey’s wife’s suggestion to be locked up in the bathhouse, for her own safety, until morning.

Not to give too much away, but it’s at this point that Cargo 200 shifts gears completely, elevating Poluyan’s peripheral pest to central antagonist and also widening its scope to the dreary corridors of Soviet officialdom, inhabited by a thoroughly despicable clan of murderers and bandits, as the criminal war abroad repeatedly comes home in variously terrible manifestations. The face of endemic corruption, Poluyan’s character is revealed to be an ex-con turned army captain named Zhurov, and is one of cinema’s most repulsive creations (though the film is apparently based on real events). His fitting backdrop: the belching melancholy of Cherepovet, whose chimneys are visions of industrialised terror.

Some have interpreted Cargo 200 as a sordidly black comedy, and though its descent into morbidity is almost hysterical, this reviewer has no doubt as to the film’s sincere and emotionally devastating treatment of a unique period in recent Russian history. Here, the extent of political corruption as well as its correlatives – moral compromise and legal complicity, both of which were exacerbated by everyday fears of a regime so brazenly intolerant of dissent – is almost too much to bear. As Zhurov’s senile mother warns an unexpected visitor at the end of the film, “We have flies” – beloved Mother Russia is decrepit indeed.

At the end of the film, on-screen text lends ironic historic detachment by assuring us that the preceding events took place in 1984; the accompanying image is of young Valera, who sports his nation’s scarlet football jersey with CCCP proudly written across the chest, walking off in naïve optimism and thoughts of capitalist venture. Out of one cauldron and into another…

Reviewed on: 21 Apr 2013
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One fearful night at a remote farmhouse echoes the breakdown of post-Soviet Russia.
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Director: Alexey Balabanov

Writer: Alexey Balabanov

Starring: Agniva Kuznetsova, Aleksei Poluyan, Leonid Gromov

Year: 2007

Runtime: 89 minutes

Country: Russia


Bradford 2013

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