To celebrate a year of cultural exchange between the UK and Russia, London’s ever enlightening arts hub, the Academia Rossica, will be presenting a retrospective of the late Russian director Alexei Balabanov over the coming months. Balabanov sadly passed away last year at the age of just 54 after suffering a seizure, leaving behind an impressive collection of work. Thus, nine of his most seminal and uncompromising films to be shown at the May Fair Hotel Theatre from February through to May. If you were to examine Russian cinema purely through the output of UK distributors, it would be fair to assume that it was an industry built around the pensive and austere framework of Andrei Tarkovsky’s prestigious oeuvre.
Yet Balabanov, despite being one of Russia’s most iconic post-Soviet directors, remains relatively unknown outside of the festival circuit. Unlike Sokurov or Zvyagintsev, Balabanov was a sardonic, almost nihilistic rock ‘n’ roll filmmaker whose abstruse style examined the shades of grey in a country constantly fighting against the dichotomies of spirituality and earthly pleasures, creativity and consumption and, most importantly, the Soviet years and parliamentary republic of the present. Occupying a realm of immense freedom, the ambiguous moral grounding of Balabanov’s protagonists culminated in a series of films that transcended conventional narratives and recreated the intelligent yet satirical nature of literature.
Contorting the aesthetic of Russian cinema, Balabanov’s style was never limited to any one genre, yet remained distinctive in a cinematic landscape where individual identities often merged with marketable movements. The films screening as part of this exclusive Academia Rossica retrospective include Balabanov’s iconic crime drama Brother (1997) and its sequel Brother 2 (2000), both of which aimed to shatter the Russia’s new global image by occupying a wild west narrative filled with corruption and told via the perspective of a curiously moral and principled assassin. In addition, Balabanov’s last two films, Me Too and Stoker – both reviewed by CineVue during their recent festival appearances – will also screen as part of the season.
Further highlights include Balabanov’s politically uncompromising and hugely celebrated anti-war films Cargo 200 (2007) and War (2002), his loose adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s early autobiographical stories with Morphine (2008), and his urban love story It Doesn’t Hurt Me (2006). There will also be an opportunity to witness Of Freaks and Men (1998) on the big screen, Balabanov’s idiosyncratic, sepia-toned cinematic comment on the decline of Russian society due to the rise of Western capitalism, with the role of consumerism (deemed by many national cultural commentators as a contemporary form of colonialism) depicted in the form of the pioneers of film and photographic pornography in the early 1900s.
For further details of the Academia Rossica’s Alexei Balabanov season, please visit academia-rossica.org.