Russia 1997

Reviewed by Julian Graffy


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

A small Russian town, the present. Demobbed from the army, Danila Bagrov wanders on to the set of a rock video being made by the band Nautilus Pompilius and gets beaten up. On his mother's advice he leaves for St Petersburg where his brother Vitia lives. Vitia is a petty criminal, hired by gang boss Kruglyi to take out a Chechen who has muscled in on the boss' protection racket. Wandering round the town, Danila saves a man named Gofman from an extortionist and meets Ket, a young girl. Vitia passes on the job of dealing with the Chechen to Danila. He does the killing, but is shot by Kruglyi's men and escapes on a tram driven by a young woman, Sveta. Later, he and Sveta attend a Nautilus concert together.

After an evening with Ket, Danila is asked by Vitia to do another job. He joins two crooks on a stakeout of a flat, but while they are waiting for their quarry, he wanders upstairs where his hero Viacheslav Butusov, the leader of Nautilus Pompilius, is at a party. He kills the crooks and saves the man they have taken hostage. Searching for Danila, Kruglyi's men badly beat up Sveta and terrorise Vitia into summoning Danila into a trap. Danila kills Kruglyi and his men, and persuades Vitia to go home to look after their aged mother. After parting with Sveta, Gofman and Ket, he leaves for Moscow.


In Danila Bagrov, Aleksei Balabanov gives us a new type of hero, experienced yet unformed, a killer with the innocent face of a Young Pioneer. Every enthusiasm he acquires - from the music of Nautilus Pompilius (quite wrong for him, being the cult band of the previous generation) to his new clothes and haircut, from killing for a living to his moves to St Petersburg and Moscow - is suggested to him by someone else. Constantly in motion, he's searching for a father figure, be he the brother who helped bring him up, or the Petersburg-German Gofman of whom he asks the perennial Russian question "Why do we live?", or the musician Viacheslav Butusov. He's descended from both the strong, silent heroes of Russian folklore and the inscrutable outsider heroes of Clint Eastwood's Sergio Leone movies and Taxi Driver, who arrive in town and proceed to "clean it up". Yet he is also (and this is Balabanov's major achievement) a representative of a post-Soviet generation unexpectedly released from the cage of moral and social certainties. The resulting confusions are effectively conveyed by the slightly bland good looks and the understated acting of Sergei Bodrov in his second major role after springing to fame in his father's Prisoner of the Mountains.

When, at the end of the film, having wasted half a dozen 'bad guys', Danila goes out once more on to the great Russian road, he seems scarcely more certain about his intentions. The film gains hugely from this openness, from its refusal to editorialise. Yet there is ample evidence for us to draw our own conclusions from the reactions of the other characters. For his brother Vitia everything in the new Russia can be reduced to biznez. Druggy, affectless Ket hangs out with him when he has money and ignores him when he hasn't. But Sveta, to his bemusement, would rather stay with her violent but humanly comprehensible husband than leave with a tough guy who thinks shooting can solve every problem, and Gofman, eking out a living with the down and outs, tells him the city has destroyed him. What both these characters have, and what Danila conspicuously lacks, is some sense of community.

Brother is the only one of Balabanov's films to be set in a socially articulated contemporary Russia, and it effectively delineates the contradictions between the provinces and the big city, between the penurious old Russia and the new Russia of petty mafiosi and feckless youth. It shows the casual contemporary Russian racism towards Jews, Chechens and other "black-arsed" trans-Caucasians. In Danila, it illustrates the beginning of the backlash against total cultural Americanisation.

Above all the film gives a wonderfully resonant picture of modern St Petersburg, the most ambiguous and multifarious of Russian cities. When Danila arrives we are given brief glimpses of its classical centre, including the statue of the Bronze Horseman by the Neva, but we also get the tenement blocks of 19th-century Petersburg, inhabited by the heroes of Gogol and Dostoevsky. (Indeed the whole film can be seen as an ironic subversion of Crime and Punishment, with the killing but without the repentance.) And, cheek by jowl, we also see the Soviet Leningrad of communal flats and the new, bourgeois Petersburg of the glamorous rock elite.

Balabanov's other films - his first film Happy Days, his wonderful short Trofim and his most recent meditation on the underside of early photography Of Freaks and Men (reviewed on page 53) - are also set in St Petersburg and have outsiders wandering its streets and exposing its paradoxes. Brother lacks those films' visual elegance and bravado, but it is in itself a superbly assured piece of work. Tight editing and a repeated use of fading-to-black give it an episodic, fractured quality, appropriate to Danila's inchoate personality. It is a work of great cinematic confidence with a subtle script, telling performances and a clever, contrapuntal use of music. A triumph in Russia, particularly among the young, it's one of the most perceptive, unpartisan diagnoses of the ambiguities of the new Russia and deserves a wider audience. Meanwhile, this spring will see the Russian premiere of Brother-2, which traces the further adventures of Danila in Moscow and Chicago.


Aleksei Balabanov
Sergei Selianov
Aleksei Balabanov
Director of Photography
Sergei Astakhov
Marina Lipartiia
Viacheslav Butusov
Production Companies
Produced by STV Film Company and State Cinema Committee of the Russian Federation
Larisa Sergeeva
Camera Operator
Valerii Revich
Costume Designer
Nadezhda Vasileva
Make-up Designer
Tamara Frid
Viacheslav Butusov
Ilia Kormiltsev
Maksim Belovolov
Nikolai Zhitkov
Sergei Bodrov
Danila Bagrov
Viktor Sukhorukov
Vitia, Bagrov's brother
Svetlana Pismichenko
Mariia Zhukova
Iurii Kuznetsov
Gofman, the German
Viacheslav Butusov
Irina Rakhshina
Sergei Murzin
Anatolii Zhuravlev
nervous bandit
Igor Shibanov
Andrei Fedortsov
Nautilus Pompilius
Two Planes
the bands
Kino Kino!
tbc feet
99 minutes 19 seconds
In Colour
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011