Generation P: Toronto Film Review

A Russian film best appreciated by local audiences.

Based on a novel about the corruption, rampant greed and consumerism of the Boris Yeltsin era, this film, directed by American-educated Russian director Victor Ginzburg, is Russian to the core.

Generation P is a Russian film that defies complete comprehension by anyone who doesn’t speak the language and, more importantly, didn’t experienced the post-Soviet era of the 1990s. At once surreal and deeply engrained with Russian cultural references and Mesopotamian mythology, the film is based on a cult novel by Victor Pelevin, apparently extremely familiar to home audiences but obscure to all others.

It seems that the film followed the novel faithfully enough to win appreciative audiences when released in Russia in April. It appears now in Toronto, where perhaps a cult following may unfold, but a domestic distribution deal is highly unlikely.

The film, directed by American-educated Russian director Victor Ginzburg from an adaptation he wrote with Djina Ginzburg, more or less follows the career ascendancy of Babylen Tatarsky (Vladimir Yepifantsev), grad student and poet, who takes a job in advertising. He succeeds as a copywriter beyond his wildest expectations as he is able to put Russian spins on American-style commercials.

Through Mesopotamian religion practices and a succession of drugs, starting with mushrooms and moving on to LSD and coke -- all spiked with vodka -- his experiences become increasingly surreal. Ultimately, the hero manages to create a “virtual” candidate that wins election to head the Russian state and at the same time winds up in control of the mechanism that supposedly produces human happiness.

What is really under the microscope here are the corruption, rampant greed, rigged elections and consumerism of the Boris Yeltsin era. While visually arresting at many points, especially the digital creation of fake event to broadcast on TV -- shades of Wag the Dog -- the film will leave most viewers behind as its plunges into mythology and hallucinogenic experiences that while not all that baffling never seem to add up to very much.

Ultimately, the film is an acquired taste and few are likely to indulge.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival
Production companies: Gorky Film Studios and ROOM
Cast: Vladimir Yepifantsev, Mikhail Yetremov, Andrei Fomin, Vladimir Menshov, Sergey Shnurov, Andrei Panin, Oleg Taktarov
Director: Victor Ginzburg
Screenwriters: Victor Ginzburg, Djina Ginzburg
Based on the novel by: Victor Pelevin
Producers: Aleksei Riazantsev, Stas Ershov, Victor Ginzburg, Djina Ginzburg
Executive producers: Andrei Vasiliev, Yury Krestinskiy, Leonid Ogorodnikov, Danil Khachaturov, Vladimir Yakovley, Andrew Paulson
Director of photography: Aleksei Rodionov
Art direction: Pyotr Prorokov, Nina Kobiashvili, Yury Mate, Dmitry Petrov
Music: Kaveh Cohen, Michael David Nielsen, Alexander Hacke, Sergei Shnurov
Costume designer: Djina Ginzburg
Editors: Anton Anisimov, Vladimir Markov, Karolina Naciejewska, Irakly Kvirikadze
Sales: Jim Steele, Filmray Inc.
No rating, 117 minutes