Oh to be young, male, misogynistic, xenophobic, homophobic, Islamophobic and alcoholic in modern day St. Petersburg.
They are “Three Comrades” living in Putin’s Proud Boys Russia, a lawless land where men like them drift through young adulthood with no moral compass and limited ambition — to make enough money to reduce the humiliation that working stiffs in a rigged “winner take all” economy endure.
As with his “Anomie,” Vladimir Kozlov paints a bleak portrait of Russian life via a generation that has known only cruelty and repression living in a totalitarian kleptocracy. The rule of law has evaporated (cops are only for the rich), the rule of the Almighty Ruble is all that counts and patriotism, vodka and bullying are all they have to cling to.
So, cautionary to any Western country drifting in that direction? You bet.
Kozlov sets this up as a mockumentary, and pretty much abandons that after we’re introduced to Gosha (Ivan Shary), Vlad (Andrei Yasinsky) and Gleb (Evgeniy Zarubin). They’re brokers, of a sort — young salesman at a small, cutthroat firm run by brutish founder Potapov (Dmitriy Grishin) like he’s seen “Boiler Room” a few too many times.
But in a down economy, there are no sales and the office the three 20somethings share is deflatingly quiet in between their long cigarette breaks. Well, it’s quiet save for hothead Gleb’s curses and phone-slamming.
In their introductions, spoken directly to the camera, they confess (in Russian, with English subtitles) that “I don’t like my job very much,” with sweater-wearing Gosha the only one with a girlfriend and real “plans” and all “very critical” of the Russia they struggle to live in.
There’s nothing for it in this land of the midnight sun (it’s set in spring) but to go out after work, “just for two drinks,” ome cigarettes and some more conversation. Olya (Olga Serikova), the blonde from down the hall? She can be talked into joining them even though she knows what “your ‘two drinks'” means.
That’s how it starts, downing beers and bitching at a brightly-lit pub that looks like a Chili’s, but without the warmth and charm. The sexist, brutish chatter whenever Olya leaves the table makes us fear for her safety. But she knows them, and knows to skip after two drinks.
It’s what happens as the night wears on that turns the evening fraught and the “Three Comrades” into every ugly stereotype listed in the opening of this review. An old woman begs for change and takes abuse. Two young women walking home are accosted, approached and threatened. A Russian punk band’s fans get an earful after a desultory club set, and one is promptly pummeled when Gleb, the ringleader, likes the three-to-one odds and the chance to batter a guy actually out on a date.
“Incels” you can’t help but think. Remembering Gosha, with his mild-mannered sweaters and attentive phone call from a woman, has a girlfriend changes nothing. These three proles are liquored up and up for a little ultraviolence. It comes like “Clockwork.”
Kozlov keeps the tone disquieting, even in scenes where we might logically assume we can relax. We can see the groupthink that runs this pack, with Gleb the one who instigates, lumpish Vlad, the least ambitious, is quickest to join in with Gosha close behind.
A “foreigner” from part of the former Soviet Empire talks to “one of our women?” He gets it, too.
There’s even an overtly political interlude, as an unemployed Afghan War veteran (Nikolay Sayapin) cadges a drink off them and sadly and cynically lays out how bleak the country’s prospects are in its struggles against America and the “communist capitalists” of China. “We’re all alone” with nothing but “losers” (Venezuela, North Korea, et al) in their corner, outclassed, outhustled and outsmarted at every turn. All is lost.
Unless the West lets people who emulate The Russian Way take charge.
“Three Comrades” is short but not rushed, and rough viewing almost from start to finish. The documentary style (hand held camera, even in chases) adds to the sad reality of it all, lives of drunken, hate-filled desperation.
Forget the propaganda and the endless endorsements of pot-bellied Proud Boys, rednecks and Republicans for Russia. This is the reality of Putinworld. How anyone, especially any woman, would want to live like this beggars belief.
MPAA Rating: Unrated, violence, alcohol abuse, smoking, profanity
Cast: Evgeniy Zarubin, Ivan Shary, Andrei Yasinsky, Olga Serikova, Dmitriy Grishin, Ksenia Plyusnina, Nikolay Sayapin
Credits: Written and directed by Vladimir Kozlov. An IndiePix release.
Running time: 1:11