Truce: Film Review

A young man's semi-aimless wanderings become a spellbinding spiral of strangeness.

The film confirms 63-year-old Svetlana Proskurina as one of the true visionaries of Russian -- and indeed world -- cinema.

ROTTERDAM — A strikingly bold journey through a world gone hazardously out of joint, Truce confirms 63-year-old Svetlana Proskurina as one of the true visionaries of Russian -- and indeed world -- cinema. This seventh feature by the sometime collaborator of the internationally better-known Alexander Sokurov (she co-wrote his 2002 art-house hit Russian Ark) won top prize at Russia's national film festival in Sochi last year and has since made steady progress around more discerning film-festivals.

But a work so distinctive deserves rather more prominence, ideally as part of Proskurina retrospectives (including the likes of 2004's Remote Access and 2007's The Best of Times). While DVD and TV exposure will follow soon enough, the gritty magic of Oleg Lukichev's cinematography should be savored on the big screen.

Collaborating with decades-younger screenwriter Dmitri Sobolev, Proskurina creates a tale, which defies conventional synopsis as so little in the way of hard information is imparted to the viewer. We follow a callow lout in his early 20’s, Egor Matveev (Ivan Dobronravov), a truck-driver assigned to travel to a spot that is quite literally in the middle of nowhere, but which may well be his own home town.

Along the way, Egor has a series of mishaps, encounters and misadventures, meeting various friends including the bearish, boozy Genka (Sergey Shnurov) and drifting towards a passionate romantic entanglement with a young actress (Nadezhda Tolubeyeva).

We gradually learn that this under-populated, seemingly lawless area is notable for a long-running, senselessly violent conflict between factory-workers and miners, but that today, a Saturday, is designated as a kind of cease-fire (hence the title).

As Egor continues on his never-quite-specified quest, his path crosses that of a belligerent military, cops and thieves -- each of them equally nefarious -- and finds himself repeatedly drawn into situations of tension and brutality. In the film's most harrowing sequence, he observes a world-weary policeman casually torturing a hapless suspect/witness by plunging his feet into boiling water.

Proceeding with the inexorable pretzel-logic of a nightmare, Truce presents a potently nihilistic, very Slavic universe of grim, dog-eat-dog fatalism, leavened by glimpses of transcendenceas Egor moves from dilapidated urban squalor into open landscapes of fields and water.

He isn't exactly a sympathetic protagonist, as he's capable of considerable callousness -- even viciousness -- on occasion, and he certainly lacks the magnetic charisma of his gruff pal Genka. The pugnacious Shnurov, better known in Russia as 'Shnur', front man of a controversy-courting ska-punk outfit, comes across rather like Russell Crowe with a heavy vodka hangover. He also provides the movie with its suitably moody score.

This kind of lugubrious weirdness can, of course, easily get out of hand, but Proskurina's confident handling of the material ensures that the unpredictable proceedings are stimulatingrather than baffling. Cinematographer Lukichev consistently finds beauty in squalor and crafts elegantly unfussy compositions of both interiors and exteriors, while editor Sergey Ivanov maintains a brisk rhythm throughout a film that packs much incident into its 90-odd (veryodd) minutes.
Production companies: International Film Festival Rotterdam (Signals), Studio SLON; Mosfilm
Cast: Ivan Dobronravov, Yuriy Istkov, Sergey Shnurov, Nadezhda Tolubeyeva, Alexey Vertkov
Director: Svetlana Proskurina
Screenwriter: Dmitriy Sobolev
Producer: Sabina Eremeeva
Director of photography: Oleg Lukichev
Production designer: Dmitriy Onishchenko
Music: Sergey Shnurov
Editor: Sergey Ivanov
Sales: Mosfilm, Moscow
No rating, 95 minutes