Petr Buslov: Bimmer 2 (Bumer 2, 2006)

reviewed by Stephen Hutchings© 2006

Film sequels are of three main kinds:

  1. those that take an already once-proven formula for commercial success and replicate it, component by component, with superficial modifications made to plot and setting, and often with narrative lines left open for the possibility of further sequels; for example, the Lethal Weapon (Richard Donner; 1987, 1989, 1992, and 1998) and Scream (Wes Craven; 1996, 1997, and 2000) series;
  2. those that really constitute the subsequent, concluding part(s) to a single, continuous narrative; for example, The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola; 1972, 1974, and 1990) and The Lord of the Rings (Peter Jackson; 2001, 2002, and 2003) trilogies;
  3. those that transpose some of the characters, themes, stylistic properties and narrative lines of an original film into a different situation, enabling the director to develop new concerns and explore new issues; for example, the Alien films (Ridley Scott, 1979; James Cameron, 1986; David Fincher, 1992; Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 1997).

Russia has recently seen a spate of film sequels Brother and Brother 2 (Aleksei Balabanov, 1997 and 2000), Night Watch and Day Watch (Timur Bekmambetov, 2004 and 2006), and now Bimmer and Bimmer 2 (Petr Buslov, 2003 and 2006). Day Watch falls most obviously into the first category, but the Brother and Bimmer sequels, whilst containing elements of the first two categories, can also justifiably claim membership in the third (as with most abstract generic classifications, few actual textual examples fall neatly within any one category).
Certainly, Bimmer 2 builds on the phenomenal and unexpected success of its progenitor. The semi-anthropomorphised BMW car (or “Bimmer”), which gives both films their titles; the presence of Kostia (Kot) and Dima (Dimon), the surviving members of the gang of four on whose (ultimately bloody) fates Bimmer focused; the corrupt policemen and amoral gangsters; the provincial settings; and the spatial dynamism (in both films the characters spend much of the time on the move, transported by the eponymous Bimmer)—all link the sequel with the original. But, beginning with the less spontaneously frenetic, more structured (even contrived) plot action, there are a number of subtle, yet important, differences.

The film opens in the prison where Kostia, played by Vladimir Vdovichenkov of The Brigade (Aleksei Sidorov, 2002) fame, is being held for crimes he committed with his fellow gang members in Bimmer. It becomes apparent that a group of corrupt prison officers have agreed to accept money for his early release and, in order to facilitate this, they provide him with a new passport stamped with the identity of a fellow prisoner, Kolia (Aleksandr Golubev), who is due for release anyway, and whom they kill in order to conceal their scheme. Once they have received their money, the officers plan to have Kostia killed, too, for fear that he might be re-apprehended for new crimes and correctly identified from fingerprint records. But their hired assassins are foiled by Dimon (Andrei Merzlikin), who, one presumes, has masterminded the release and who owes Kostia a favor for effectively having betrayed him in the previous film. Dimon dies in the battle with the assassins and Kostia is left carrying the burden of two deaths. With a newfound sense of obligation to his fallen comrades, he travels to an unspecified region of provincial Russia to seek out Dasha (Svetlana Ustinova), Kolia’s sister, to whom Kolia has requested that he pass a letter. Despite a deep and touching affection for her brother, Dasha is herself a lawless and uncontrollable teenager with connections to the criminal world (her brother received his sentence for taking revenge on a gangster who had offended her) and is now involved in blackmailing an aspiring politician, the wife-cheating father of a girlfriend of hers, for a rape he did not commit. After Kostia has first rescued her from the vengeful blackmail victim, then held her against her will in order to calm her down sufficiently to be able to tell her his story and hand over the letter, Dasha has him beaten senseless and left for dead.

Kostia is rescued by a poor provincial family and nursed back to health, but the daughter of the family, a single mother, intends to exploit Kostia’s violently induced amnesia (he cannot remember his own name) to claim him as her husband. However, Dasha’s pangs of guilt lead her back to Kostia and she restores his memory. With their relationship now bordering on but never crossing the physical threshold of the amorous (Dasha suddenly finds she is jealous of an attractive woman whose car Kostia repairs), together they set off with the intention of leaving the country to the “cops” (menty) and starting a new, tranquil life abroad using Dasha’s ill-gotten gains. But as the film moves to its tragic dénouement, their plans are dashed―Kostia’s past and Dasha’s refusal to learn from it catch up with them. Without Kostia’s knowledge, and in order to throw the police off the trail of the Bimmer they are now tracking down, Dasha drives it onto a ferry and attempts to palm it off on a gang of robbers who have raided the tourist agency from which she hopes to purchase the “tickets to paradise” (with the suggestion that she may have been implicated in the raid). Kostia is shot dead during the police ambush of the ferry while searching for Dasha, whom he mistakenly believes to be driving the Bimmer. The film ends with a close-up of the corpses and of Dasha’s pallid face contorted in a silent scream of pain.

Although its own publicity bills it, like its predecessor, as a crime thriller, Bimmer 2 is in several related senses a post-gangster movie and it is here that its interest lies. It is no coincidence that the sequel followed three years after Bimmer and that the action takes place five years after that of the original, which had been set in the late 1990s. As Dimon remarks to Kostia on his release from prison: “Life has changed” (Zhizn' izmenilas') and the conditions in which gangster culture and mores thrived no longer seem to apply. In a telling scene during Kostia’s initial search for Dasha, he asks a group of posturing youths whether they have seen her. Impressed by Kostia’s self-evident underworld credentials, they enquire how much his BMW would cost. His reply—“Believe me. You don’t need a car like this, Vovka!”—is directed at the idealisation of the criminal, BMW-driving bratva that earlier films and television serials (including The Brigade and, arguably, even Bimmer) helped to foster.

Kostia himself appears to have learned from the criminal past portrayed in Bimmer. He is keen to rebuild a new life under his false identity and his actions are shaped by the sense of ethical responsibility he feels towards those to whom he owes the opportunity he has been afforded (to Kolia, whose identity he now bears, and to Dimon). Even Dasha’s reckless aggression and seeming lack of moral perspective are driven by her guilt over and desire for revenge for her brother, whose imprisonment and death she indirectly caused, and she belatedly and incipiently discovers the value of romantic love.

The film itself is curiously bereft of the high-octane, exuberant violence associated with the gangster genre. The final shoot-out (one of only three scenes of gun-related violence in the film) is conducted with a kind of deadpan impassivity that positions Bimmer 2 against Hollywood-style crime thrillers, as well as the native variety. The film’s sensibility is, in fact, best captured by Shnurov’s quirkily repetitive, melancholic soundtrack, one of its distinctive features. The implicit polemic with Hollywood is underpinned by a propensity to draw upon native cinematic intertexts; Kostia’s role and tragic inability to evade his eventual fate, for example, is strongly reminiscent of that of another reformed gangster seeking redemption at the heart of Russia’s provinces, Vasilii Shukshin’s Egor in Snowball Berry Red (Kalina krasnaia, 1973). With their passionate dreams of spiritual freedom from the oppressive burdens of their past and of Russia’s present, they even implicitly invoke Shukshinian volia. And Dasha’s boyish audacity and gutsy, streetwise charm place her in a long line of Russian/Soviet cinematic gamines, which includes Liubov' Orlova and, more recently, Oksana and Katia, the heroines of Sergei Bodrov Jr.’s Sisters (Sestry, 2001). Indeed, while she is technically neither parentless nor a child, Dasha is so far removed from the protective norms of family life as to resemble the mythical orphan figure which, as Elena Prokhorova has indicated, recurs in Russian culture at times of social transition (523).

Unlike some previous exponents of the mythic narratives of Russian criminality (including Shukshin) Bimmer 2 refuses to opt for conventional images of a culture of brutality imported from an alien metropolis and superimposed upon the peace and tranquillity of the unsuspecting, unspoiled provinces. Buslov is scathingly unsentimental about post-Soviet provincial life. The film is dominated by vast, forbidding rural landscapes; the motivations of the family who care for Kostia after his beating are far from entirely virtuous; and the abiding impression is one of unremitting harshness and grey, grinding routine. The sight of the sleek, black BMW at the center of such a landscape is, indeed, anomalous and excessive. By completely abstracting the symbols of western materialism from their familiar urban context and inserting them, unassimilated, into bleak, native settings, both Bimmer films succeed in decoupling post-Soviet gangland culture from its alien origins and thus exposing the falsity of its glamorous appeal. This process is brought to its conclusion through the deconstruction of the anthropomorphised image of the Bimmer itself. Throughout both films, the visual motif of the car’s twin headlights, blinking like human eyes, has accorded the car an impudent, semi-human ambiance. At the end of Bimmer 2, the motif serves as a deceitful harbinger of Kostia’s death and the car is revealed to be no more than a cold, inanimate lump of shining metal.

The abiding tone of Bimmer 2 is one of bitter irony. Dasha’s naïve dreams of escape from a crime-ridden provincial hell to a distant “paradise on earth” (the film’s working subtitle) are subjected to the same ridicule as the young men’s aspirations to enter the seductive world of the black BMW. It shares this attribute, a trope that runs through Russian culture from Pushkin’s Tat'iana onwards, with other recent post-Soviet Russian films, such as Valerii Akhadov’s The Greenhouse Effect (Parnikovyi effekt, 2005) in which the young, downtrodden heroes dream in vain of a better life in a Greek paradise.

Through all these gestures of tone and attitude, Bimmer 2 subverts the genre of gangster thriller to which it ostensibly owes allegiance, sustaining, yet ultimately transcending, its ties to its predecessor. It shares its critical reappraisal of the underground blatnaia kul'tura of the criminal world with the controversial NTV television serial about life in a provincial jail—The Zone (Zona; dir. Petr Shtein, 2005)—which also provides several of the minor, prison-based actors in Bimmer 2. Even in purely narrative terms, the film is a complex generic hybrid, combining elements of the road movie (although it follows a distinctly unromanticised and grim road), the “buddy film” (yet the relationship between Kostia and Dasha oscillates from paternal, to fraternal, to comradely, to erotic), and the “journey of self discovery” (but Kostia’s nascent “new” identity is tainted by its bearer’s knowledge that it is founded on the sacrifice of another’s life). For this reason, it can, perhaps, be seen as an unremarkable, but competent, post-Soviet take on the “knowing” post-modern crime thriller familiar to cinema audiences across the west. But above all, in the way that it captures a particular moment in Russian culture’s renegotiation of its relationship with its recent past and with the western influence on that past, it is a zeitgeist movie, and in this, undoubtedly, lies its appeal to its domestic audience. As with all zeitgeist movies, how far that appeal will endure beyond the immediate present remains in rather more doubt.

Stephen Hutchings
University of Manchester (UK)

Works Cited

Prokhorova, Elena. “Can the Meeting Place be Changed? Crime and Identity Discourse in Russian Television Series of the 1990s.” Slavic Review 62.3 (Fall 2003): 512-525.

Bimmer 2, Russia, 2005
Color, 110 minutes
Director: Petr Buslov
Screenplay: Petr Buslov, Denis Rodimin, Ivan Vyrypaev, Kim Belov
Cinematography: Aleksandr Simonov
Music: Sergei Shnurov
Cast: Vladimir Vdovichenkov, Andrei Merzlikin, Svetlana Ustinova, Alekandr Golubev, Maksim Konovalov, Sergei Gorobchenko, Nikolai Olialin
Producers: Sergei Sel'ianov, Sergei Chliants, Vladimir Ignat'ev
Production: CTB Film Company, Pygmalion Production

Petr Buslov: Bimmer 2 (Bumer 2, 2006)

reviewed by Stephen Hutchings© 2006

Updated: 04 Oct 06