'Cargo' hold: Russian film may find TV a tough sell

Violent release stirring controversy

Alexsei Balabanov's "Cargo 200" — an uncompromising story of rape, murder, abduction and psychological abuse — opened in theaters across the country Thursday to a chorus of criticism from the press and politicians.

The film opened in a limited release of 60 prints following a packed premiere Wednesday at Moscow's Rolan cinema.

National television channels have said they will not run the Balabanov film, which has been given a rating that will only allow adults over the age of 21 to see the movie. The helmer is well known here for the cult gangster hit "Brother" and the odd-ball semi-pornographic classic "Of Freaks and Men."

Set in 1984 and based on the true story of the abduction of a pretty young daughter of a provincial Communist party boss, Balabanov includes a scene in which the girl is raped with a vodka bottle and a man is summarily executed with a swift bullet in the back of the head for a murder he did not commit.

In perhaps the most gruesome scene, a low-life drunkard is forced to rape the girl as she is manacled to a bed occupied by the rotting corpse of her fiancé.

"None of the television stations we have offered the film to have taken it so far," producer Sergei Selyanov said in an interview Thursday. "But we are continuing to talk it over and I hope that it will be shown."

He added that Wednesday's premiere was packed and that the film was a hit at the Kinotavr film festival in Sochi, where it shared a critics award.

"We'll see how the film does over its first weekend and take talks with television forward after that," Selyanov said.

Russian press reports suggest that the film may be in for a rocky ride. Vladimir Kulistikov, the head of NTV, told news agency AFP that his channel did not "have the courage" to air such a film, fearing that it would not be to the tastes of most viewers.

And Russian politicians have condemned a film already gaining a reputation for harming people's memories of what is increasingly a nostalgic view of the past.

Said Communist parliament member Lyubov Shvets: "You mean to say that that was the Soviet Union? It's easy to fight the dead," AFP reported.

Balabanov defended his 11th film as a reflection of what happens to people in a world in which God is denied.

A devout Russian Orthodox believer, the director denied at a press conference in Sochi last Saturday that the film should be viewed as a comment on today's Russia.

Sales agent Raisa Fomina of Intercinema XXI Century, which is handling international sales, said that a number of film festival directors had been impressed by the film during market screenings last month at Cannes.