‘Collector’ (‘Kollektor’): Karlovy Vary Review

Collector Still - Publicity - H 2016
Courtesy of Paprika Productions

Collector Still - Publicity - H 2016

An impressive debut made with minimal ingredients.

A Moscow debt collector plays Russian roulette with his reputation in Alexei Krasovskiy’s stark single-character thriller.

A lean one-hander that punches above its dramatic weight, Collector features just a single onscreen character and takes place almost entirely inside one claustrophobic location. After winning the Fedeora critics’ group prize at Karlovy Vary last week, Russian writer-director Alexei Krasovskiy’s minimalist debut should grab further festival play and possible niche distribution. Its modest prospects may be boosted by the recognition factor of its star, Konstantin Khabenskiy, a veteran of various Russian blockbusters as well as English-language thrillers including Wanted, World War Z and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Structured as a series of increasingly tense phone conversations, Collector is stylistically indebted to Steven Knight’s single-character 2013 drama Locke, a solo vehicle for Tom Hardy, though there are faint echoes of David Mamet’s high-pressure salesmen in Glengarry Glen Ross here too. Weasly and animated, Khabenskiy plays Artur, a hotshot debt collector for an anonymous Moscow company. He works entirely by headset phone from a plush high-rise office, targeting debtors with bogus calls about family and medical matters that swiftly take a dark turn into blackmail, bullying and veiled threats.

Artur is very good at his job. He has charisma, charm and wit, but all deployed in the service of Machiavellian self-interest. Working late one night, between professional calls, he is also negotiating the final stages of a failed relationship and, in a nicely counterintuitive twist, monitoring the progress of a badly injured dog that he deposited with a vet earlier that day. He has compassion, it seems, but for animals rather than humans.

Clearly overdue some hefty karmic payback, Artur is finally caught off guard by an anonymous caller claiming to be a vengeful widow whose sick husband was driven to suicide by the collector’s passive-aggressive methods. After unsettling him with cryptic questions and ominous hints, the woman posts a bombshell video clip online apparently showing Artur committing some unspeakable act outside a school. The video goes viral, triggering instant outrage on social media.

As evening shades into night, Artur finds himself shunned by friends, fired by his employer and vilified in news reports about the online video. “I was just jumping a puddle!” he protests. “It’s been edited!” But it’s too late. The hunter has been captured by the game. As Artur scrambles to save his reputation by desperate dirt-digging and frantically calling in favors, Collector starts to feels like a hostage thriller in which the single character is both negotiator and hostage.

Collector is a stylistic stunt of sorts, and sometimes the workings feel slightly contrived. In order to keep the focus on Artur and the suspense building, Krasovskiy is obliged to keep secondary characters lurking behind closed doors, and to accelerate the slow-motion spread of real-time reaction on digital media. A late act of violence also sits a little uncomfortably in an otherwise understated, thoughtful thriller that resists screen cliches about the Moscow underworld for most of its run.

That said, director and star cram an impressive variety of tone and texture into their slender 74-minute duet. Denis Firstov’s jumpy camera matches Artur in wired energy, never running short of fresh setups despite the limited location. At one point our anguished anti-hero takes a reflective break on an outdoor balcony, ruminating on his rollercoaster evening, and Dmitry Selipanov’s score switches from propulsive clatter to mournful orchestration. These are small details in a minor debut movie, but such subtle touches mark Krasovskiy as a rising talent to watch.

Venue: Karlovy Vary International Film Festival

Production companies: Paprika Production, All Media Company

Cast: Konstantin Khabenskiy, Polina Agureeva, Valentina Lukashchuk, Kseniya Buravskaya

Director, screenwriter: Alexei Krasovskiy

Producers: Dmitry Ruzhentsev, Georgy Shabanov, Eduard Iloyan

Cinematographer: Denis Firstov

Editor: Artyom Baryshnikov

Music: Dmitry Selipanov

Sales company: All Media Company, Moscow

No rating, 74 minutes