Russian cinema has a long and rich history of producing exceptional sci-fi movies. From the pioneering silent films of Protazanov and Zhuravlyov, to the deeply philosophical films of Tarkovsky and Lopishansky, Russia has always used this speculative science based genre to comment on social issues rather than merely forms of escapism. Screening at this year’s London Film Festival, Alexander Zeldovich’s Target (2011) attempts to continue this tradition with his heavily stylised and hugely ambitious disquisition of greed, mortality and natural human behaviour. In the year 2020, it seems very little has changed.
The only noticeable differences in this near-future is the amplified influence of Chinese cultural and the divide between rich and poor having widened significantly. We follow four bourgeois Muscovites perched at the very top of the social economic ladder. One is a wealthy customs officer who patrols the new superhighway which connects east with west – one long stretch of road leading from Guangzhou to Paris. There’s a successful television presenter whose off-the-wall cookery show mixes light hearted entertainment with a perverse satirical twist. The remaining players are a husband and wife whose relationship has begun to strain despite their relatively comfortable lifestyles.
These carefree, wealthy and mildly eccentric folks struggle to find solace in their material wealth, leading them to partake in an expedition to a remote rural community in search of the key to immortality – which they find in the guise of an abandoned astrophysics plant which locals proclaim leads to everlasting youthfulness. However, on returning to Moscow re-born, the bonds which once connected these fragile relationships begin to tear in the most dramatic of fashions. No doubt intended to be a deeply meditative exploration of mortality and an important examination of the class divide, Target’s often heavy-handed approach to expressing its various themes leaves numerous elements tragically underdeveloped.
Further hindered by a collection of thoroughly unlikeable protagonists who lack any redeeming characteristics, Target’s contemplation on natural human behaviour becomes difficult to immerse yourself in due to a distinct lack of any emotional connection to these philandering, irresponsible, elitist socialites. There sickening obsession with physical appearances and status is only amplified by their insistence on reciting quotes from Lermintov poems to each other – an incredibly irritating facet of a film which positively revels in pretentiousness.
The film’s overly-complicated, hideously long and mind numbingly incoherent narrative utterly lacks any tension or intrigue. When events finally begin to heat up, these ‘action-packed’ moments are so horrifically misogynistic that any dramatic effect intended is diluted by the morally repugnant and needlessly graphic violence we encounter. There’s no question that Target looks fantastic and has all the elements required of a great science fiction film, yet it ultimately fails to combine its multitude of cinematic ingredients into something remotely watchable. Zeldovich’s film is to be admired for its ambition but the indulgent, tedious and pretentious approach it takes is totally inexcusable.
For more BFI London Film Festival 2011 coverage, simply follow this link.