lexey Balabanov, the Russian director best known for foisting 1997’s blunt, bracing, Yeltsin-era-defining thriller Brother upon the unsuspecting world, is back with a film jerry-rigged to reclaim international attention after a fallow decade since that breakthrough.
A loud, violent, morally unhinged cry during the dark days that followed the first Chechen war, Brother lurched forth as a crude but unmistakably honest attempt at laying Russia bare. Betrayed by the Soviet Union, picked dry by predatory oligarchs, impoverished by a devalued ruble, and maddened and dehumanized by a brutal, dirty war, Balabanov’s nihilistic, gun-toting anti-hero effectively represented a human spirit reduced to mere, even ambivalent survival.
Cargo 200, its title ostentatiously taken from a code word for military casualties during the ill-fated conflict in Afghanistan, and nominally based on a true story, posits another era of madness in mid-eighties, pre-Perestroika Soviet Union. Telegraphing dialogue, clumsily piling characters into city vs. country archetypes, and pounding away with two ham fists at everything in sight, Balabanov seems poised to make a powerful if laughably unsubtle statement in a sub-Sam Fuller tenor. But what exactly is that statement?