Although there have been many great highlights of the Bradford Film Festival so far, there is something exciting about discovering and connecting with the work of a particular director. My best discovery during the festival has to be the work of Aleksey Balabanov. The festival have shown three of his films in the form of a miniature tribute. I was able to see two of the three. It was his latest film Me Too that initially captivated me and after watching the gruesome Cargo 200, from five years earlier, it was confirmed to me just how exciting and absorbing this Russian film-maker really is.
Me Too struck the perfect balance between humour and horror and was able to move the audience as well as making us laugh when we felt we shouldn’t be. The performances are very minimalistic and the subtlety of the actors echoes the film’s theme of hopelessness that the characters face as they come to terms with the fact that the earth may end in less than a year. Oleg Garkusha’s performance as our, (sort of), main character would have been very at home in a Coen Brother’s comedy and his use of facial expression was responsible for some very comical moments. His soft and tender character is complimented by the hard, stern characters of Sanya and Yura. Despite the apocalyptic doom that faces the characters, the film sticks in my mind as a comedy. A dark comedy with faint horror running through it.
Cargo 200 felt more like a horror film with a few streaks of wit making themselves present. After being incredibly impressed with Me Too I was prepared for another ‘Coen-like’ black comedy. Here the comedy was mixed in with some blatant visual horror that we expect from the likes of Michael Haneke. Here, Balabanov manipulates his audience more directly but, although some moments were difficult to watch, it did not feel exploitative at any point. Balabanov seems to be making some rather strong comments about eighties Russia that I was not able to fully appreciate as I am not educated in the history of Russia and its politics. In a similar way to Almodóvar, Balabanov is capable of making an entertaining and shocking piece of cinema that represents his nationality and still transcends beautifully to a foreign audience.
I was disappointed that I was unable to make it to the final of the three screenings but can end my time at the festival knowing that I am leaving with a passion for a new director whose work I can continue to watch, explore and enjoy. Today is the final day of the festival and after a screening of a silent soviet film, accompanied by the Dodge Brothers, I can begin to reflect on my time at the Bradford International Film Festival…stay tuned, I have lots to write about.
Thanks for reading and let’s all keep supporting our beloved film industry.