Me Too

Me Too


Reviewed by: Michael Pattison

Boasting unfussy hilarity and unlikely shades of topicality, Me Too premiered in Venice last September on the run-up to the Mayan calendar’s predicted apocalypse. Consequently, the film might be seen as a prescient deadpan mockery of the gradual hysteria that came to surround that end-of-the-world scenario, but its non-professional cast imbue a tangible, vodka-fuelled fatigue with the world (and a wish to escape its increasingly unpleasant implications) that manages to be both bleak and comical at once. Its title, frequently repeated by various characters in response to others’ simple requests for happiness in this unforgiving world, invites viewers to share and thus alleviate their misery.

After offing a group of would-be thugs in what is the most hilariously incongruous opening film scene in recent years, Sanja (Aleksandr Mosin) embarks with pals Oleg (Oleg Garkusha) and Jura (Jurij Matveyev) upon an intoxicated pilgrimage to the remote Bell Tower of Happiness, a monument atop a frozen lake located “somewhere between St. Petersburg and Uglich”, which may or may not grant planetary migration to more accommodating climes. Their journey is soundtracked, incessantly, amusingly and to some annoyingly by avant-garde folk rock musician Leonid Fyodorov, whose music as a founding member of St. Petersburg band Auktyon lends the film a uniquely tonal contradiction that is as concurrently indulgent and uplifting as vodka itself.

Writer-director Alexey Balabanov – who pops up in a sly cameo near the end – gives clear signs here of casual genius (others may prefer to name it natural talent). Unabashed enough to make a feature-length gag out of the end of times, the Russian director and his non-professional performers somehow instil grit and warmth onto a traditionally cold Russian template – of an intellectual and semi-spiritual voyage to the unknown – most famously sketched by Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979), to which Me Too appears as a casually hilarious and deceptively intelligent rebuke. The way in which the film drifts from otherwise throwaway comedy to poignant morality tale by way of one non-sequitur after another is effortless, and Aleksandr Simonov’s cinematography belatedly announces its beauty with a fire-lit roadside picnic-at-night.

As Balabanov’s latest film has it, fatal levels of radiation and a perpetual nuclear winter are dangers worth risking when the alternative is an ongoing endurance of everyday life in present-day Russia (an early scene has hunchbacked Kaurismäkian figure Oleg pray for the privilege of accepting what he can’t change, the courage to change what he can and the wisdom of knowing the difference between the two). In what is perhaps his boldest move, however, Balabanov courts early disaster with the inclusion of offhand racism and outrageous misogyny, only to put both in perspective with a deeply humane sensibility first displayed in his 1997 breakthrough Brother: it’s quietly telling here that the only two characters who are “saved” are those who keep their mouths shut.

Reviewed on: 20 Apr 2013
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After inadvertently committing an act of violence, a group of friends journeys to a legendary tower in the hope of travelling to a better world.

Director: Alexey Balabanov

Writer: Alexey Balabanov

Starring: Aleksandr Mosin, Jurij Matveyev, Oleg Garkusha

Year: 2012

Runtime: 83 minutes

Country: Russia


Bradford 2013

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