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Russian director Yuri Bykov is nothing if not consistent. His three previous features were very much of a piece: tautly constructed, psychologically claustrophobic studies of people in varying stages of moral decay struggling to survive in a corrupt, brutal, kill-or-be-killed Russian society. To Live focused on an innocent man forced to go on the run with a criminal. The Major revolved around the cover-up of a fatal hit-and-run. And, foreshadowing the Grenfell Tower fire in London in a way, The Fool posited a community deciding how to risk-assess and manage an occupied high-rise on the verge of collapse.
Now, The Factory offers up more of the same in a way, although fans of Bykov’s work may note a slight shifting of emphasis here, dialing down the social criticism and turning up the genre elements, like stalk-and-shoot gunfights. With eminent Paris-based outfit Wild Bunch handling sales, it wouldn’t be surprising to see this feature about screwed-over workers kidnapping their boss traveling considerably further than Bykov’s earlier work, offering the multi-skilled director a chance to drop his calling card on the desks of studio power brokers. (Or whatever the contemporary equivalent of leaving a calling card is these days — NFC-ing over a vCard file?) It wouldn’t be surprising if someone remade The Factory in another language (if they could find a way to strip out its quintessential Russian-ness) or if Bykov landed a gig to direct a big-studio action movie. Or both.
The titular building is a massive, Soviet-era plant making steel widgets and whatchamacallits, located in the middle of an unnamed nowhere, a fitting vagueness given this story could be taking place anywhere in post-industrial Russia these days. In the opening sequence, middle-aged man of few words Greyhair (regular Bykov collaborator Denis Shvedov) gets down to work bending steel bars on his assembly line, exchanging a few words of banter with his more garrulous colleagues. The crew is a typically mixed bag of different types — an old-timer, a sweet young kid, a potty-mouthed braggart and so on — who live paycheck to paycheck. Not that they’ve had one of those for a couple of months, but as is the way in Russia, everyone still shows up and expects they’ll get compensated eventually since that’s the way it’s always been, going back to the days of state-owned means of production.
However, times have changed, irrevocably. Kalugin (Andrey Smolyakov), the dead-eyed oligarch who bought the factory back in the 1990s when everything was up for sale, has decided it’s no longer in his interest to keep this small cog in his vast business machine going and will close it down shortly and no one will get any back pay. The men bitch and moan, but only Greybeard sees an opportunity to finally get what’s owed them. He proposes they carjack Kalugin, take him hostage and demand a ransom to be divided among themselves.
It turns out that Greybeard’s motives aren’t strictly material, and like most of the characters offered here, he’s not quite the one-dimensional, straight-out-of-genre figure he might appear to be at first. That goes also for Greybeard’s chief antagonist, Kalugin’s head of security Fog (Vladislav Abashine), a disciplined former soldier who is both respected and admired by his underlings, another gang of men just as eclectic as the gaggle that Greybeard assembled from the factory workers but with sharper suits and better guns. But on the night of the kidnapping, Fog is a bit distracted by the news just in that his beloved wife is going to die soon from cancer, leaving him to raise young children on his own. As a result, his commitment to taking a bullet to save Kalugin is just that little bit less ardent, which itself will have consequences.
As the day turns to night, a siege at the factory sets in, aggravated by the arrival of a squad of local cops, a predictably corrupt and brutal outfit mindful of territorial demarcations but also ultimately only out for themselves. One by one, men within each unit either turn on their companions or make fatal mistakes and the numbers on both sides continues to tick down, racking up the suspense via Anna Krouty’s brisk, efficient editing. Technically, this is in every respect a well-oiled machine, with Vladimir Ushakov’s dramatic, dark-palette cinematography meshing seamlessly with the crisp use of sound and unshowy but effective production and costume design. Altogether, the package harks back to classic film noir, right down to the budget-maximizing use of just a handful of locations and symbolic shafts of light.
Production companies: Kinovista, Forever Films Media
Cast: Denis Shvedov, Vladislav Abashine, Andrey Smolyakov, Alexander Bukharov, Dmitry Kulichkov, Alexander Vorobiev, Ivan Yankovsk, Yury Tarasov, Alexey Komashko, Kirill Polukhine, Petr Barancheev
Director-screenwriter: Yury Bykov
Producers: Charles-Evrard Tchekhoff, Edward Iloyan, Yury Bykov
Director of photography: Vladimir Ushakov
Production designer: Sergey Rakutov
Costume designer: Ulyana Polianskaya
Editor: Anna Krouty
Music: Yury Bykov, Ivan Isyanov
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Contempory World Cinema)
Sales: Wild Bunch
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