'Moscow Never Sleeps': Film Review

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More broad than deep.

Irish director Johnny O'Reilly's drama concerns the lives of several interconnected characters living in the Russian capital city.

You’ll be booking that dream vacation to Moscow after watching Johnny O’Reilly’s drama depicting the intertwined lives of several denizens of the Russian city. Clearly influenced by the likes of Robert Altman and Paul Thomas Anderson, Moscow Never Sleeps provides a glamorous portrait of its setting courtesy of its non-Russian director, who has clearly taken a shine to it after living there for more than a decade. Although the film’s overstuffed, overpopulated storyline proves only sporadically interesting, it’s notable for at least providing an alternative view of a city more commonly associated with wintry gloom, corruption and heavy drinking. Not that the film doesn’t include at least two of those elements.

The one not showcased is bleak weather, as the story takes place on Moscow’s annual local holiday City Day, held in September. The story’s numerous characters include: Anton (Alexey Serebryakov, who starred in Leviathan, a far less upbeat film about Moscow), a wealthy businessman who finds his empire threatened by government bureaucrats who want their piece of the pie; his trophy wife Katya (Evgenia Brik), a young pop singer whose career he’s working to advance; Katya’s ex-lover Ilya (Oleg Dolin), who’s embarked on a relentless campaign to get her back; and Ilya’s father Valery (Yuri Stoyanov), a famous actor/comedian who juggles a wife and girlfriend and learns he only has a few weeks to live.

That list doesn’t even include the feuding teenage stepsisters of a lower-class family and the young man agonizing over his decision to put his elderly grandmother in a nursing home. The jumble of storylines inevitably results in narrative confusion, and the relationships linking them, some of which are only revealed late in the proceedings, don’t resonate strongly. And some plot developments — such as when Valery, after fleeing the hospital, gets kidnapped by a gang of teenage louts who claims to be his “fans” — just feel silly.

Still, there’s no denying the filmmaker’s passion for his titular setting, which he presents as a sophisticated, cosmopolitan city filled with gorgeous architecture, a vibrant night life and crowded streets. O’Reilly doesn’t ignore the darker aspects of the Russian capital and the nation’s culture, as illustrated by Valery’s sardonic comment after waking up in the hospital and being informed he’s still very much alive. Or when the government apparatchiks threatening Anton’s business tell him, “You don’t like it, go live in London.”

Although the performances by the large ensemble wildly vary in quality, there are standout turns by Stoyanov, who captures both the world-weariness and vulgar humor of the burnt-out Valery, and Serebryakov, who is intensely commanding as the businessman embroiled in a fight with the system that he almost certainly can’t win. Their characters provide the high points of this ambitious but uneven portrait of a modern Russia still mired in Soviet-era problems.

Production companies: Snapshot Productions, AI Films, Blinder Films
Distributor: Snapshot Productions
Cast: Aleksey Serebryakov, Mikhail Efremov, Evgenia Brik, Lubov Aksenova, Elana Babenko, Yurly Stoyanov, Anastasia Shalonko
Director-screenwriter: Johnny O’Reilly
Producers: Katie Holly, Johnny O’Reilly
Executive producers: Len Blavatnik, Yevgeny Katsenelson
Director of photography: Fyodor Lyass
Editors: Dermot Diskin, Nico Leunen
Production designer: Katia Zaletaeva
Costume designers: Victoria Bagdanova, Aleksandra Feodosieva
Composer: Roman Litvinov

100 minutes

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