Kinotavr festival nods keep it 'Simple'

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LONDON -- Alexei Popogrebsky's debut as a solo director, "Simple Things" -- a drama about a dying actor who begs a doctor to help him commit suicide in return for a valuable masterpiece -- swept the board at the closing awards ceremony of Russia's top national film festival, Kinotavr, late Monday.

Popogrebsky -- who first gained critical attention as co-director with Boris Khlebnikov of the award-winning "Roads to Koktebel" in 2003 -- won Kinotavr's Grand Prix and also picked up best director while the film's Sergei Puskepalis took best actor at the closing of the festival's 18th edition in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. Leonid Bronevoy won the award for best male role for his part in the film.

The film -- one of the highlights in a competition lineup criticized for lax editing and confused storytelling -- also shared the Russian Critics Award with Alexei Balabanov's gruesome tale of a mid-1980s provincial Soviet psychopath, "Cargo 200."

Balabanov -- responsible for such classics as the gangster movie "Brother" and sepia-toned semi-pornographic tale "About Freaks and Men" -- caused a sensation at Sochi with his new film's uncompromisingly bleak and violent images of a young woman taken hostage and sexually abused for the benefit of a crazed police officer.

Balabanov, who denied that the film has any relevance to today's Russia, claimed it was a film about what people do to each other in a world without God. A key sequence of the film focuses on a drunken midnight discussion on the question of the existence of God, between a professor of Marxist-Leninism and a devout villager who distills his own vodka.

The drunken villager is later framed for a murder committed the same night, sentenced to death and summarily executed in one of the film's many disturbing scenes. The film opens across Russia on Thursday.

In other awards, Alexei Mizgiryov's "Hard-Hearted," which centers on a slightly odd provincial war veteran who comes to Moscow and takes on a gang of corrupt cops, won best screenplay and best debut.

Maria Shalayeva won best actress for her role in "The Mermaid," about a girl who goes to Moscow and disappears after falling in love with a man she meets there.

Naum Kleiman, who fought to save tens of thousands of unique exhibits after Moscow's Cinema Museum was closed two years ago, was given an award for his contribution to the preservation of Russia's cinematic heritage.
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