Ruslan Bal'ttser: The Insatiables (Nenasytnye, 2006)

reviewed by Alissa Timoshkina© 2007

Porn, drugs, and hip-hop: this summarizes the essence of The Insatiables. Ruslan Bal'ttser makes no attempt in his new feature film to depart from the genre and style of his previous box-office hit Don't Even Think of It! (Dazhe ne dumai!, 2002). He has obviously found a successful recipe for filmmaking, which has proven popular with a limited audience—teenagers. As a consequence, his films have never received much critical acclaim. Taking his inspiration from the familiar narrative codes of popular gangster comedies, Bal'ttser recycles the stylistic and narrative conventions of that genre. The Insatiables is essentially a pastiche of MTV aesthetics and the so-called “glamour culture” of glossy magazines and TV commercials that dominates the contemporary Russian social scene. This culture has found new expression in the cinema in such films as Rezo Gigineishvili's Heat (Zhara, 2007), Ol'ga Stolpovskaia and Dmitrii Troitskii's You I Love (Ia tebia liubliu, 2004), Timur Bekmambetov's Night and Day Watch (Nochnoi dozor, 2004; Dnevnoi dozor, 2006), or even Sergei Bondarchuk's Company 9 ( 9-aia rota , 2005). Although these films belong to different genres, they are, nevertheless, characterized by similar visual and stylistic features: the over digitized imagery, highly saturated colors , and fast paced editing are merely carry-overs from the directors' careers in TV and “clip-making.”

Bal'ttser's refusal to depart from this current trend is further accentuated by his choice of a comfortable genre—the parody—which denies innovation per se. The absence of originality weighs the film down, as it is too obvious that the director is simply relying on the success of Guy Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino, reworking most of their “cult” stylistic and narrative features under the guise of a pastiche film.

In following the tradition of using intricate plot-lines and multiple protagonists, the film introduces two sets of main characters. The first is a group of three friends (a collective portrait of the contemporary youth generation), who believe that the street is their best university. Their presence in the film cannot be credited to the director's innovative thinking for such “collective protagonists” are another recurring feature in contemporary Russian cinema. Archie is the charismatic, streetwise leader of the group; Tèma, is a wealthy “good boy,” who provides the money for the “gang's” recreations; and Buba is the ultimate scapegoat and errand-boy for Archie. Together they decide to start up a hip-hop group called The Insatiables in order to establish their status in society, or at least in their local neighborhood .

Fast money, fast cars, and easy “chicks” are all that the young post-Soviet generation apparently dreams of. They communicate in vulgar slang borrowed from hip-hop songs and see no other way of achieving their goals than by mimicking the crime “culture” of US gangsters. It's not so easy, however, for the friends to cut their teeth in illegal fighting, drug dealing, and counterfeiting. Ironically, the three phoney gangsters fail in all of their endeavors . A money-making scheme involving underground boxing fails when Dron, a friend who represents their “gang” in the ring, gets drunk and incites a brawl. This episode is clearly modelled on the subplot of Snatch (dir. Guy Ritchie, 2000), in particular on Brad Pitt's performance. Their final attempt at money-making—drug dealing—follows a similar scenario: Buba simply throws away a kilo of marijuana, thinking that the police are after them. In short, the group is a bunch of losers and social misfits, with whom the majority of young audiences can clearly identify and sympathize.

The director attempts to justify his characters' degenerative behavior by placing the blame on the older generation. The film features two of the least admirable parent figures: Tèma's mother and Archie's father. If the former does not care much for her son, she at least supplies him with money; the latter not only fails to provide Archie with parental support, but actually steals from his son—a professional cheat, the father plays his classic con on Archie & Co. and happily takes off with their money.

The parallel plot-line develops in the self-reflexive, mock setting of the porn film industry. It focuses on two pseudo-bohemians: Alf, a director, and Riga, his script writer who is full of bold and progressive ideas that have yet to prove successful. The director is in crisis, having lost his inspiration, his girlfriend, and presumably his potency; moreover, he has run up a huge debt at the local casino. Alf and Riga take out their repressed anger on The Uncle, a “Godfather” of the porn business, who not only stifles their creative potentials, but has also stolen Alf's girlfriend. The dramatic tension is clear: Alf and Riga need to stab Uncle in the back in order to get rich, make movies their own way, and find their romantic leads. Yet their attempts, like those of the three friends, are all in vain.

The two narrative lines continuously echo each other and, finally, as anticipated from the start, come together for the culmination of the film. The humor of the final part lies in the fact that the robbery is planned, staged, and performed as a parody of a film production: Riga devises a script and—together with Alf—conducts a series of castings, giving the main part to Rocky (another caricature qua character who is a pastiche of a porn-action superhero) and supporting roles to Archie and his friends. The robbery sequence is directed in the best tradition of Ritchie or Tarantino: it is fast-paced, swiftly edited, and filled with farcical humor —even if it lacks originality. It takes more than that, however, to surprise or to amuse the contemporary “seen it all” type of audience. The same can be said about the film's ending. After the successful robbery, comes the big celebration, during which Riga spikes the drinks of his “colleagues” and then takes off with most of the money. Such an unexpected twist at the end might surprise only those who have not yet seen Danny Boyle's cult film Trainspotting (1996).

Overall, The Insatiables is an amusing experience that provides numerous instances of comic relief, like the witty inter-titles punctuating the narrative (“Kiss Bill,” “Non-Lethal Weapon”) or Riga's suggestion to make a porn version of Hitchcock's The Birds (1963). The film's stylistic and formal devices signal the presence of a competent director, who uses editing, sound, and camera work to the best standard of the genre. He confidently plays with flashbacks, freeze frames, slow motion, peculiar camera angles, and grotesque costumes and sets, only to prove that his film is nothing but form, with not much substance to it. Bal'ttser's irony and the overall cynical tone of the film might appear somewhat subtle and be understood literally by younger audiences. Despite a cynical prologue, which misrepresents the director as having a critical view of the post-Soviet generation, the film fails to alert us to the appalling state of contemporary youth culture, re-affirming instead that “all that glitters is gold.”

Alissa Timoshkina
Queen Mary, University of London

The Insatiables, Russia, 2006
Color, 92 minutes
Director: Ruslan Bal'ttser
Screenplay: Ruslan Bal'ttser
Cinematography: Pavel Ignatov
Composer: Mikhail Khodarevskii
Art Director: Daniil Dukhavin
Cast: Artem Tkachenko, Vladimir Epifantsev, Ekaterina Malikova, Aleksei Oshurkov, Aleksandr Robak, Maksim Lagashkin, Mark Bogatyrev, Nikita Efremov
Producers: Aleksandr Robak, Maksim Lagashkin
Production: Cinemafor MS Vision

Ruslan Bal'ttser: The Insatiables (Nenasytnye, 2006)

reviewed by Alissa Timoshkina© 2007

Updated: 15 Jun 07