Aleksei Uchitel': Break Loose (Vosmerka, 2013)

vosmerkaThe Russian title of Aleksei Uchitel's seventh feature film literally means [Model] Eight and refers to the first Soviet front-wheel drive hatchback, VAZ 2108, known in the West as Lada Samara. Around 900,000 of these were sold in the USSR/RF between 1984 and 2003, before the car was discontinued. However, those expecting the film to have a MacGuffin plot about a coveted object and its succession of different owners (similar to Ivan Dykhovichnyis The Kopeck [Kopeika, 2002] with a VAZ 2101; and Petr Buslovs Bimmer [Bumer, 2003] with its BMW, and the 2006 sequel) are in for a disappointment. Uchitel' might just as well have called his latest effort a Chetverka (The Four), since it centers on the lives of four friends and colleagues (who happen to drive a Lada Samara) in an unnamed provincial town on the eve of the current millennium. (Yeltsins presidential resignation can be heard from a television set.) The four menGera (Aleksei Mantsygin), Lykov (Aleksandr Novin), Grekh (Artem Bystrov) and Shorokh (Pavel Vorozhtsov), all in their twenties, are members of a special purpose mobile police unit (OMON). Their job is to restrain unpaid workers at protest demonstrations by day, and their hobby, to fight well-heeled gangsters in dance clubs by night. The film is based on a short story by the popular, if fairly ordinary, writer Zakhar Prilepin, a prominent National Bolshevik who served in the OMON of the Nizhny Novgorod region in the mid to late 1990s and left it for a career in journalism because it paid better. (For the autobiographical background to the story, see Prilepin 2007.)

vosmerkaThe portrayal of the four buddies in the film seems to owe more to the concept of Russian sobornost' than to Alexandre Dumass four musketeers or the The Brigade (Brigada, 2002) TV series, so indistinguishable are they from one another, especially when wearing uniform. Gera stands out from the rest of the team a little because of his love affair with a gangsters moll named Aglaia (Vilma Kutavičiūtė). He even turns against his three pals briefly and attacks them after they all break into Aglaias flat, hoping to find her gangster boyfriend there. Ill tear you apart for her! (Porvu za nee!), screams Gera, suddenly feeling protective because Aglaias privacy has been violated. Curiously, his rival, Buts the gangster (Artur Smolianinov), provides just about the only charismatic presence in the entire cast, apart from the cameo appearances by Sergei Puskepalis as the OMON commander and Prilepin himself as a taxi driver. It is a genuine mystery why Aglaia would want to have anything at all to do with Gera or anyone else except Buts.

vosmerkaPrilepins story provides the reader with an explanation missing from the film: Aglaia is a nymphomaniac who has been sleeping around since school. There are other important differences between the source and the adaptation, all pointing towards Uchitel's preference for cheap thrills. In the story conflicts mostly express themselves through fistfights, whereas in the film some characters get knifed and shot at, and Gera is even thrown under a passenger train (but survives). Also, in the story, Buts, when walking on his own at night, is accidentally hit by the vosmerka and dies, whereas the film magnifies this deus ex machina resolution: both Buts and Aglaia are crushed by a freight train in Butss Mercedes-Benz.

vosmerkaStill, the vosmerka has a role to play in the film. In chase scenes, it is patriotically shown to be able to hold its own against reputable foreign makes, but can a Lada Samara really hit a Merc repeatedly at high speed and not fall apart? Nicknamed the Porsche for the poor, VAZ 2108 was produced with the Western market in mind and relied heavily on Western designers and components, but turned out to be the last word in automotive hell (Humble 2012). Has the film perhaps been jinxed by association?

This is the least imaginative of any feature by Uchitel' to date, lacking both plot development and decent acting. Many action sequences appear amateurish if not altogether unbelievable (the 12+ rating may be partially to blame), and the soundtrack is not worthy of the director of the cult documentary Rock (Rok, 1988).The band 25/17 performing the closing credits song was founded in 2002 and looks out of place in a film set in 1999. The only surprise Break Loose arguably brings is that is makes Prilepins story seem less mediocre by comparison.

Andrei Rogatchevski, KinoKultura - Issue 46 (2014)