Perestroika -- Film Review

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Russian filmmaker Slava Tsukerman is best known on these shores for his bizarre 1982 cult favorite "Liquid Sky," but "Perestroika," for all its surface strangeness, is unlikely to supplant that effort in terms of popularity. The tale of a Soviet emigre returning to his native country in the wake of Gorbachev's political reforms, this undeniably imaginative but ultimately overstuffed mixture of fiction and documentary mainly will induce head-scratching.

The partially autobiographical story line concerns the return to Moscow in 1992 of Sasha Greenberg (Sam Robards), a renowned astrophysicist who has spent the past 17 years in America working for the U.S. government. Initially considered a traitor, he is now welcomed home as a hero.

He soon is reunited with his former mentor, Professor Gross (F. Murray Abraham), an American scientist who defected to Russia to aid in the country's nuclear weapons program. Also circling in his orbit are numerous past and present romantic interests, including his estranged American wife (Ally Sheedy), a Russian scientist (Oksana Stashenko) and a gorgeous environmentalist (Jicky Schnee). There's also a young woman (Maria Andreyeva) who might or might not be his daughter.

But the film ultimately is less focused on its main character's domestic entanglements than on the shifting political and social conditions of its setting -- the prevalence of anti-Semitism is a major theme -- as well as numerous relevant philosophical and scientific issues. Blithely shifting time frames and featuring numerous documentary-style and surreal digressions, the narrative has a jerkily absurdist quality that unfortunately lacks the wit to carry the viewer along for the ride. And the endless talky debates feel less like natural dialogue than a series of talking points.

The deliberately rough-hewn visuals sometimes are quite arresting, but in the end, the frustratingly oblique "Perestroika" proves more wearisome than enlightening.

Opens Friday, April 17 (REF Prods.)
Cast: F. Murray Abraham, Sam Robards, Oksana Stashenko, Jicky Schnee, Maria Andreyeva, Ally Sheedy
Director-screenwriter: Slava Tsukerman
Producers: Slava Tsukerman, Nina V. Kerova
Executive producer: Robert E. Field
Director of photography: Mikhail Iskandarov
Editor: Arnold Schlissel
Production designer: Mikhail Rubtsov
Costume designers: Mimi Maxmen, Tatiana Vdovina
Music: Aleksandr Zhurbin
No MPAA rating, 97 minutes