Issue 44 (2014)
Anton Rozenberg: Slide (Skol’zhenie, 2013)
reviewed by Natasha Rulyova © 2014
The film Slide by Anton Rozenberg is a new contribution to the genre of films and television serials about bandits and criminals, further developing the chernukha theme that dominated Russian literature and film in the 1990s. Chernukha stands for ‘representational art that emphasises the darkest, bleakest aspects of human life’ (Graham 2000). Later, in late 1990s and early 2000s, this negative representation of Russia and Russians was discouraged: “the jury at the 2000 Russian Film Festival in Sochi agreed among themselves not to consider violent films for the top prizes (which means that Aleksei Balabanov’s Brother 2 (Brat 2), the most talked-about film that year, took no prizes)” (Graham 2008). Now we can see a return of the bleak and critical representation of a deeply corrupt Russian society in Slide, which screened in the competition of the Moscow International Film Festival in 2013.
In the previous films and TV serials about criminals (Brother, Brother 2, The Brigade), the protagonist bandits were likable and had some redeeming features; for example, in Brother 2, the protagonist protects a Russian prostitute against western criminals. The representation of the bandit as attractive and charming led to criticism for the romantic representation of brutality and for creating associations between Russianness and criminality. Slide is a different story. It represents a deeply criminalized society which has no hope for redemption. In this world, there are no good guys, and there is no place for humanity. All the criminals are either members of the State Narcotics Surveillance Agency, the Federal Security Service known as FSB (former KGB), or police forces—in other words, the siloviki. We do not meet a single criminal who is not part of the system or the criminalized state. The fight for money and influence in drug trafficking is between different parts of the siloviki structures. Their world is the criminal world. Brutal force is the only method of achieving goals in this world, as the protagonist is told at the beginning of the film: “Either you kill or you will be killed.”
All members of these criminal structures can be described as oborotni (werewolves), the metaphor widely used to depict corrupt members of the police or other government structures in post-Soviet Russia: they are “lawful” government officials during the day and in the night they turn into criminals and murderers. Viktor Pelevin is one of the writers who has popularized the metaphor in his book The Sacred Book of the Werewolf. Slide takes this metaphor to a new level—the protagonists do not even pretend to keep their “clean” official faces. Criminal discourse and criminal behavior permeate their work practice, which is undistinguishable from their criminal practice. There is no difference between the “day” and the “night.”
Pepl, the protagonist of this film (played brilliantly by Vladislav Abashin) is a member of this criminal network who is suspected of betrayal by two members of his tight State Narcotics Surveillance group of four (Staryi, Pepl, Aryma and Max). At that moment, the simple and brutal division into “us” and “them” turns him into a victim in the eyes of his werewolf colleagues. The plot consists of a chain of events which take place as Pepl is trying to escape his punishment, i.e. murder. There is no other way of resolving the conflict but by shooting. On the way, a number of people, including civilians, are injured and shot dead. After every shooting, Pepl’s body is further injured and he looks more and more like death himself. In terms of the portrayal of the body, it is informative to compare this to the depiction of the “mutilated male body” in Soviet literature, as examined by Lilya Kaganovsky (2008). The difference is that Pepl’s increasingly mutilated body continues to function not out of his love for the motherland or patriotism, but thanks to drugs, which he confidently injects into parts of his own body. Another helpful comparison can be made with the depiction of the body in US films. A study of violence in films produced in the USA in 1994 shows that the “explicit indication of injury in any degree was only rarely acknowledged and was systematically minimized. Furthermore, the Hollywood narrative, regardless of genre, methodically dissociates cause from effect, violence from injury, and in effect creates impossible images of the human body” (Browne et al 2002: 366). In Slide, the viewer is faced with the effects of multiple injuries and observes a slow mutilation of Pepl’s body which ends in his slow and painful death.
The criminal network to which Pepl belongs is entirely masculine. There is not a single female person working in these structures. There are only four female characters which play some role in the plot. Three of them are passive girlfriends and wives: they are housewives with no interest in anything but watching daytime TV, gossiping, having kids, or enjoying an affair. There is only one female character, who works as a stewardess and is used by the male members of criminal structures to deliver drugs. When men suspect a betrayal they immediately link it to this humble female character, who is eventually murdered. Nevertheless, if there is any hope, it is associated with femininity. When we see Pepl wounded at the very beginning of the film, it is the meek stewardess who saves his life by simply appearing at the scene of shooting in time for him not to be killed. This awakens Pepl’s sense of gratitude and, as a result, weakens him in the eyes of his brutal partners. Pepl reflects on his life, his selfish life and cruelty, and re-assesses his and his partners’ cruel actions. Another potential redemption can be found in the character of his girlfriend (Ol’ga Smirnova). She is the only sensitive and loving character in the film, but it is too late to save Pepl.
A few words should be said about the technical aspects of the film, in particular its camera work. A combination of shaky camera movements, some black-and-white shots, and footage that look as if taken from a CCTV camera (at the beginning of the film) creates an effect of a pseudo-documentary and adds to the realistic representation of reality. The montage used to put together very short shots can be described as parallel: it is used to juxtapose two scenes taking place at the same time and to increase emotional engagement of the viewer.
The film is set in Moscow and the Moscow region. The viewer follows the camera along Moscow streets and into apartments. The urban landscape is as bleak as the story itself. The wealthy bosses of the criminalized state mafia live in ostentatiously decorated flats and drive expensive western cars. Pedestrians in the streets are silently terrified: for example, an elderly male pedestrian with two bags returning home from the shop quickly withdraws from the scene when he sees some shooting near his block of flats. He does not call the police, he does not shout for help; and what would be the point if the police is part of this criminal network. Omnipresent terror in the streets of Moscow is not entirely dissimilar to that in Stalin’s Russia.
University of Birmingham
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Browne, Nick, Webb, Theresa, Fisher, Kevin, Cook, Bernard, McArthur, David, Peek-Asa, Corinne and Kraus, Jess (2002), “American Film Violence: An Analytic Portrait,” Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 1 (April).
Graham, Seth (2000), Chernukha and Russian Film, Studies in Slavic Cultures, University of Pittsburgh, USA
Graham, Seth (2008) “Two Decades of Post-Soviet Cinema: Taking Stock of Our Stocktaking,” Kinokultura 21.
Kaganovsky, Lilya (2008) How the Soviet Man Was Unmade: Cultural Fantasy and Male Subjectivity under Stalin, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh, 2008
Pelevin, Viktor (2004) Sviashchennaia kniga oborotnia, Moscow: Eksmo.
Slide, Russia, 2013
Color, 117 minutes
Director: Anton Rozenberg
Script: Anton Rozenberg
DoP: Ivan Lebedev, Anton Rozenberg
Editing: Anton Rozenberg
Cast: Vladislav Abashin, Mikhail Solodko, Vladimir Luk’ianchikov, Natal’ia Shvets, Ol’ga Smirnova
Producers: Aleksandr Golutva, Arnol’d Tatarintsev, Andrei Reznik
Production: Multiland, Blackbriar Production
Anton Rozenberg: Slide (Skol’zhenie, 2013)
reviewed by Natasha Rulyova © 2014