Aleksei Balabanov – Gruz 200 aka Cargo 200 (2007)

A young woman is taken hostage by a police officer and subsequently abused by the lawman gone mad.

The term Cargo 200 refers to the bodies of USSR soldiers brought home from Afghanistan in the 1980s, but in Aleksei Balabanov’s film of the same name every character seems destined to become Cargo 200, either actually ending up dead or at least ending up in a dead-end quagmire of pointless violence and immoral behaviour. Unflinching would be a gentle word to describe this portrayal of a doomed humanity, but the exact point of the film beyond its doomsday message is never really clear. Unlike other recent excursions into nihilism as expressed through heartless sex and pointless violence (Mortier’s Ex Drummer comes to mind as a recent example), Balabanov’s film never goes beyond stating the obvious.

Gruz 200 caused quite a stir upon its release in Russia and it is easy to understand why. The director of popular features such as Voyna (War) and Pro urodov i lyudey (Of Freaks and Men) here goes overboard for a tale so dark and explicit that even what at first sight appears to be a happy ending actually arrives with an evil and sadistic grin. Perhaps it says something about the human condition, but as the Russian outcry might indicate, it is doubtful a lot of people will want to hear it, much less pay for it to see it.

The film is set during the war with Afghanistan in 1984 but takes place entirely in Russia, in a dreary industrial regional in and around Leninisk. Artem (Leonid Gromov) is a professor of “scientific atheism” whose car breaks down one night when on his way to his mother in Leninisk. He asks for help at a nearby cottage on the heath owned by the god-fearing Aleksei (Aleksei Serebryakov) and his practical wife Tonya (Natalya Akimova), who sell grain spirits.

Unbeknownst to Artem, not much after his serious conversation about the impossibility of both the existence of God or one’s soul with Aleksei and his subsequent departure, his possible future in-law Valera (Leonid Bichevin) shows up at the same cottage to buy some more booze after a night of heavy drinking. With him he brings Angelika (Agniya Kuznetsova), a friend of his girlfriend and the daughter of a highly placed Soviet official.

Their stay at the cottage starts a chain of events that will impact the lives of all in a dramatic way, with the evil and sadistic Captain Zhurov (Aleksei Poluyan) at the heart of the whirlpool of shocking deeds that follow, though all characters are at least partly to blame. At best, characters are reluctant cowards, but most of them are worse. A lot worse.

The film’s shocking final third contains some apocalyptic scenes set in the bedroom of Zhurov. These scenes give the words “torture porn” its two original meanings back and then combines them to disturbing effect. Zhurov’s stone-drunk mother (Valentina Andryukova) apathetically continues to watch Soviet television as her son lives out his absurd fantasies in the adjacent room, likely mirroring the stupor some audience members might find themselves in when watching Gruz 200. Perhaps apathy is the best remedy. Pass the vodka!

1.41GB | 1h 25mn | 720×384 | avi


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