Denis Neimand: Junk (Zhest', 2006)

reviewed by Seth Graham© 2006

Marina (Alena Babenko), a hotshot tabloid journalist for Komsomol'skaia Pravda, finds herself in an emotional and professional crisis after witnessing firsthand the bloody end of a hostage situation. Intent on quitting her job after the trauma, her editor persuades her to do one more story: a psychiatric-ward interview with a serial child killer. The killer (as if on cue) escapes before she has the chance to do the interview, but she convinces the detective in charge of apprehending the maniac to take her along on the hunt. The vast dacha colony near the city of Azostal' (“nitrous-steel”), to which the escapee has fled, is reminiscent of the settings of a number of post-apocalyptic films, including Tarkovskii’s Stalker (1979), and the constant presence of fallout-like linden fluff in the air adds to the effect. Many of the marauding denizens of the colony are straight out of Mad Max (George Miller, 1979), including a tall, disfigured hero in a cape and mask (Aleksei Serebriakov). Once in this setting, Marina (getting steadily grimier and grimier, and popping tranquilizer pills) runs or staggers from one encounter to the next with feral dachniki and other not-very-interestingly weird characters before she finally finds her original quarry, the escaped maniac, with whom she establishes a sentimental bond that drives the last act. If that last sentence seems like a run-on, consider it a miniature parody of the film itself.

Directors who are lucky enough to have a large budget at their disposal for their debut feature seldom feel limited by principles of artistic unity or understatement. The temptation to pack the coveted reels with as much “filmmaking” as possible (genres, themes, styles, angles, citations, etc.) often results in what Nancy Condee might call a “six-fingered baby”: an object of intense parental love that disinterested parties recognize immediately as a hypertrophic monstrosity. Denis Neimand’s debut feature, Junk, is monstrous in at least one sense: it is filled with frightening characters doing heinous things, and a frantic heroine running from them. It is also markedly eclectic, especially in terms of genre. Junk is something of a genre-hydra, a fact readily acknowledged by Neimand and screenwriter Konstantin Murzenko, who define the film’s genre as “psychobuster” (“psikhovik”) —an explosive mix of a “psychological (often psychopathological) thriller, an action movie, a psychedelic drama, a comedy and a classical Hollywood blockbuster”. The film also shows the continuing influence in Russian cinema of a trend that many saw as a threat to the very concept of genre film: chernukha, a seemingly unmotivated emphasis on equally unmotivated cruelty and degradation. Neimand’s nods to chernukha imagery, however, stand in contrast to other heads of the hydra, which—as the filmmakers promise—include visual or verbal citations of Soviet cartoons (Just You Wait! [Nu, pogodi!; dir. Viacheslav Kotenochkin and Vladimir Tarasov, 1969-1993]), slapstick comedies (Diamond Arm [Brilliantovaia ruka; dir. Leonid Gaidai, 1968]), and others.

Debut filmmakers also tend to craft features that reflect their prior experience making short student films (or, in Neimand’s case, commercials and music videos): a series of interesting visual concepts that do not necessarily add up to a feature film. In this regard, the episodic structure of Murzenko’s narrative, which for the central portion of the film is slightly reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s After Hours (1985), was an ideal script for a feature debutant like Neimand. Perhaps the most productive way to view Junk is as a parody/homage to prominent trends in national filmmaking of the past 40 years, which brings us back to Neimand and Murzenko’s list of genre influences. If comedy was the bright spot of Soviet post-war film and psychological drama a favorite of Soviet auteur directors, then post-Soviet cineastes have embraced the thriller and (to a lesser extent so far) the horror film. Junk is, then, experimental, but it is retrospectively, rather than revolutionarily, experimental, yet another indication that Russian cinema is too often distracted by its own eclectic past.

 

Seth Graham
University College London


Junk, Russia, 2006
Color, 110 minutes
Director: Denis Neimand
Script: Konstantin Murzenko, with Denis Neimand and Iusup Bakhshiev
Cinematography: Mikhail Mukasei
Art Direction: Vladimir Iuzhakov
Music: Igor' Vdovin
Cast: Alena Babenko, Aleksei Serebriakov, Mikhail Efremov, Igor' Chernevich, Anatolii Belyi, Viacheslav Razoegaev
Producers: Iusup Bakhshiev, Artem Terent'ev, Viktor Taknov
Production: MB Productions

Denis Neimand: Junk (Zhest', 2006)

reviewed by Seth Graham© 2006

Updated: 04 Oct 06