Issue 74 (2021)

Konstantin Statskii: Hotel Belgrade (Otel’ ‘Belgrad’, 2020)

reviewed by Megan McCullough © 2021

hotel belgrade A joint Russian/Serbian production, Hotel Belgrade is a romantic comedy that pays homage to the Russian gangster films of the 1990s and early 2000s. While geared for a popular audience, the film nevertheless relies heavily on an undercurrent of nostalgia that suggests a longing for a national identity that has all but disappeared from modern Russian cinema.

Part of a larger universe that includes the popular television series Hotel Eleon (2016–2017)and Grand (2018–), Hotel Belgrade is a star vehicle for actor/producer Miloš Biković. The film sees Biković reprise his role as wealthy playboy and hotelier Pavel Arkadijević, who is unwillingly pulled into the world of a Serbian mafia boss with a passion for smuggling international art, when he accidently breaks the mobsters’ newest acquisition—Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain. In order to pay off his debt, and save his life, Pavel agrees to marry the boss’ assertive and somewhat ill-favored daughter Vedrana (Jelisaveta Orasanin). When Pavel quite literally runs into Dasha, an old flame from Moscow (Diana Pozharskaia), while being chased by the mobster’s goons, things become even more complicated. Hiding his predicament, along with his true feelings, from Dasha, Pavel agrees to act as her tour guide. From the streets of Belgrade to vukojebina (Serbia’s “back of beyond”), Pavel and Dasha encounter a wacky cast of characters that include a band of gypsy street musicians, a naked riverboat captain, and Pavel’s “blind” grandfather. And all while on the run from the Serbian mafia, who are about as intimidating as the thugs from Aleksei Balabanov’s Blind Man’s Bluff (Zhmurki, 2005). Directed by Konstantin Statskii of How I Became Russian (Kak ia stal russkim, 2015)fame, Hotel Belgrade suffers from all the markers of a modern Russian cinema devoid of national character: a simple but often unbelievable plot, uncomplicated dialogue, and a penchant for sped-up montage sequences overlaid with bad pop music. Such characteristics make the film indistinguishable from other popular modern Russian film franchises, such as the What Men Talk About (O chem govoriat muzhchiny 2010, 2018) and About Love (Pro liubov’, 2015, 2017).

hotel belgrade Interestingly, Hotel Belgrade relies heavily on a pervasive sense of nostalgia, subtly paying homage to the Russian gangster films of the 1990s and early 2000s, including the utilization of recognizable stock characters. For example, the Serbian gangster, with his shaven head, gold chains and obligatory Adidas track suit and the cab driver (in this case conman turned tour guide), who, while stuck in traffic, curses the other drivers and hits the steering wheel. Prompting one to want to ask: “Do you have a brother in Moscow?” [A u vas brat v Moskve est’?] from Balabanov’s Brother 2 (Brat-2, 2000). Even Belgrade is portrayed through this lens of 1990s nostalgia. Its cobbled streets and narrow alley ways reveal the presence of Yugoslav-era cars and its graffiti-covered buildings, many of which still show damage from the 1999 NATO bombings, evoke the decay of the immediate post-Soviet period. The film’s mise-en-scène, when combined with its images of flashy excess, such as nightclubs packed with scantily-clad women and Pavel’s playboy lifestyle, is reminiscent of the New Russian (novyi russkii) aesthetic of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

While much of the film takes place in Serbia, the few scenes set in Moscow portray Russia’s capital as sleek, modern, stylish, but cold and lacking any semblance of national character. With its self-propelled electric suitcases, glass skyscrapers and minimalist clothing in greyed neutral tones, Hotel Belgrade’s Moscow is a futuristic, non-descript European city while Belgrade, with its bright and warm color palette and its South Slavicness openly on display, is portrayed as being more alive, more authentic. For while the film’s central narrative focuses on the idea of true love, there is much discussion surrounding the concept of the Slavic soul (dusha). Stating that “Truth is in the village” (istina v derevne), the film suggests that there is perhaps an element of Russian cultural truth (istina) that has been lost due to modernization, and even perhaps that there has been a transference of the Russian soul from Russia onto Serbia.

hotel belgradeHowever, while Hotel Belgrade clearly portrays Serbia as svoja (our own)in relation to Russia—a classification, worth noting, not afforded to other South Slavs of the Balkan Peninsula—the relationship between the two countries is far from equal. For all the nostalgia surrounding the concepts of love, truth and the Slavic soul, Russia still holds a position of superiority. This is re-enforced by the film’s characterization of Serbs. For while Hotel Belgrade’s portrayal of South Slavicness contains elements of the absurd that hint at the films of Serbian director Emir Kusturica, it quickly dissolves into a series of one-dimensional, cliched Balkan stereotypes. This is especially apparent towards the end of the film, in which Pavel brings Dasha to his ancestral village in order to both meet the family and elude the Serbian mafia. Practically feral, and with more than a few screws loose, the villagers are exoticized in a manner reminiscent of the portrayal of the Caucasus in Leonid Gaidai’s Kidnapping Caucasian Style (Kavkazskaia plennitsa, 1966).

At its core, Hotel Belgrade is a mindless, yet entertaining romantic comedy that pays homage to the Russian gangster films of the 1990s and early 2000s. Viewers with an interest in, or experience of, the Balkans or those concerned with the question of national identity in modern Russian cinema may find the film worth their time.

Megan McCullough
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace,
Bosnian-American Genocide Institute and Education Center

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Hotel Belgrade, Russia, 2020
Languages: Serbian, Russian
Color, 1 hour 46 minutes
Director: Konstantin Statskii
Screenwriters: Vasilii Kutsenko, Anatolii Molchanov, Viacheslav Zub
DoP: Ulugbek Khamraev and Fedor Struchev
Composer: Ivan Kanaev
Cast: Miloš Biković, Diana Pozharskaia, Boris Dergachev, Aleksandra Kuzenkina, Ljubomir Bandović, Miodrag Radonjić, Jelisaveta Orašanin, Radomir Nikolić, Predrag Damnjanović, Miljana Gavrilović, Jakov Jevtović
Producers: Miloš Biković, Dmitrii Dorogavtsev, Tatjana Zezelj Gojkovic, Eduard Iloyan, Kristina Marjanac, Maria Pork, Miodrag Radonjic, Vitalii Shliappo, Mikhail Tkachenko, Aleksei Trotsiuk, Denis Zhalinskii
Production Company: Start, Yellow, Black & White

Konstantin Statskii: Hotel Belgrade (Otel’ ‘Belgrad’, 2020)

reviewed by Megan McCullough © 2021

Updated: 2021