'How Viktor "The Garlic" Took Alexey "The Stud" to the Nursing Home': Film Review | Karlovy Vary 2017

Viktor The Garlic Still 1 - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of VGIK–Debut
A riotous Russian road movie that rarely takes its foot off the gas.

A boozy delinquent and his ex-con father share an emotionally charged road trip in director Alexander Hant's prize-winning debut.

An angry young man embarks on a brutally unsentimental journey with his long-estranged dad in Russian director Alexander Hant's raucous satirical road movie, which won the main prize in the East of the West strand at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival last week. Fast-paced and cheerfully vulgar, bursting with comic-book violence and bodily fluids, How Viktor “The Garlic” Took Alexey “The Stud” to the Nursing Home is a much more entertaining ride than its irksome, ungainly title may suggest. Cloaking semi-serious art house ingredients in lurid action-comedy clothes, Hant's debut feature ticks enough boxes to potentially make a theatrical splash beyond the festival bubble. Imagine Toni Erdmann directed by Quentin Tarantino.

Viktor (Yevgeny Tkachuk) is a hard-drinking, belligerent, 27-year-old man-child working a zero-option factory job in a dead-end Russian town. He has little time for his long-suffering wife and young child, instead spending his free time boozing to excess and having boisterous sex with his mistress Lariska (Alina Nasibullina), whom he dreams of setting up in her own "whore's nest" apartment. Unfortunately, his scheme to wrangle a bank loan based on his family background as a self-described orphan proves fruitless.

Fate intervenes when Viktor's long-absent ex-convict dad Alexey (Alexey Serebryakov) resurfaces. With his health failing, Alexey agrees to sign over his apartment to his estranged son, just as long as Viktor finds a nursing home for him. But the nearest available place is hundreds of miles away, so Viktor loads his horizontal, bed-ridden father into the back of his scrappy red mini-van for an eventful road trip across Russia's vast rural hinterlands. Along the way there are shock revelations, medical emergencies, awkward reunions with old flames and lethal showdowns with former prison comrades.

Much of Hant's lowlife comic romp is played for rude laughs and crude thrills, but it casts a sharply satirical eye on the dog-eat-dog values of contemporary Russian society, too. It is also peppered with moments of pathos, like the poignant dynamic of Alexey and Viktor slowly recognizing their many shared character flaws through a fog of mutual loathing.

The two leads are well cast, their physical resemblance seeming to sharpen as the plot deepens. Securing the services of Serebryakov, who starred in Andrey Zvyagintsev's Oscar-nominated Leviathan and will soon take the Hugh Laurie role in the Russian-language remake of House, is a coup that may help boost the film's commercial prospects. Now residing in Canada, Serebryakov reportedly waived his fee to help bring Hant's low-budget project to fruition.

Tkachuk's performance is lusty and compelling but a little one-note, his face locked in a perpetual sneer as he struggles to convey the depths of wounded resentment that lie beneath Viktor's boorish surface armor. Inevitably, father and son reach a kind of uneasy truce by the end of their journey, but thankfully it is more ambivalent and less syrupy than it might have been in a more conventional, Hollywood-ized story.

Hant and cinematographer Daniil Fomichev favor a quick-fire visual grammar that suggests they were raised on a high-sugar diet of Danny Boyle, Guy Ritchie and Edgar Wright movies: all primary colors, percussive edits and flashy visual gags. A booming soundtrack of coarsely rasped Russian-language rap music propels the action along, reinforcing the zippy music video aesthetic. The effect is glib and cartoonish at times, but nicely counterbalanced by a deep seam of bleak, filthy, fatalistic realism that feels very Russian, indeed.

Production company: VGIK – Debut
Cast: Yevgeny Tkachuk, Alexey Serebryakov, Andrey Smirnov, Alina Nasibullina, Olga Oblasova
Director: Alexander Hant
Screenwriter: Alexey Borodachev
Producers: Fedor Popov, Vladimir Malyshev
Cinematographer: Daniil Fomichev
Editor: Nataly Shmidt
Art director: Asya Davydova
Venue: Karlovy Vary International Film Festival

Sales company: VGIK – Debut, vgik-debut@mail.ru

90 minutes