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Petr Buslov: Boomer (Bumer) (2003)

reviewed by Gerald McCausland 2003


"None of them wanted to kill. None of them wanted to die,"  we are told in the advertising blurb for Boomer, one of the most intensely advertised Russian films in recent memory. At first glance, truth in advertising seems to be characteristically absent inasmuch as aggressive violence comes as naturally to the four young heroes of this film as does eating and drinking. On closer examination, however, the description has the ring of truth. These four could not possibly want to kill, because they truly cannot want anything. "Want" is not a relevant category in this film in which human desire plays absolutely no motivating role.

Petr Buslov, the young director of this, his debut film, makes no attempt to hide his deliberate decision to make a genre movie. Whether one considers Boomer to be "road movie" or "gangster film," the plot and the characters follow the rules of the genre perfectly. Despite what one might well have expected, the title character of the film, a sleek and imposing BMW 750 IL, becomes neither the "real hero" of the film nor some kind of demonic spirit leading its occupants to their doom. It is, at the level of plot, no more and no less than their car, a most necessary component for this road movie. Nor is their anything particularly innovative about their social position. They are petty bandits without any characterization that would allow any one of them to distinguish himself from the general type.

Nor do the adventures of these four amount to anything particularly heroic. They actually have a knack for making their situation worse than it needs to be. They immediately attempt to bribe the first cop they encounter on their flight from Moscow and thus give the cop his first indication that they have something to hide. Their survival skills amount to following the codes of conduct that apparently governed their Moscow world. All the more do these rules govern life on the wild open road of the Russian countryside, where bandits are known to roam like packs of wolves. The particular skills honed by a life of urban crime leave them ill equipped to prevail against their new adversaries, but they do manage to score victories as well as recover from repeated humiliations. Nothing challenges their basic code of conduct. The law of the pack rules outside Moscow simply in a more naked form. They must hone new skills without changing their basic way of life.

It is Buslov's particular achievement to have made a gangster film without any kind of ethical or moral message. It makes no more sense to judge these four for their behaviour than it does to condemn wolves for hunting in packs. There is no question of loyalty in this band of thieves. There is only the need for strength in numbers to win the fight for survival. The pack will disperse should that be to the advantage of one or more of its members. The one thing that they all have no difficulty resisting is the call of human community.

Many aspects of this carefully constructed film come together to reinforce this basic contrast of human community to the law of the pack. While the slangy forms of their given names add to their criminal personas, the four nicknames (Kot, Rama, Killa, Oshparennyi) give them a vaguely feral aura. Animal allusions abound at every turn: the old woman who gives the injured Dimon medical attention refers to all four of them as gorillas, while she herself is known as Sobachikha [Dogstress?] and Rama refers to the village idiot, a schizophrenic war veteran, simply as "an animal." Women appear in this film with only one particular role: it is they who call the men back to the human community, whether that community would be found in emigration to Paris or in retreat to a nearly abandoned Russian village. Not one single man appears able or willing to heed such a call.

Machines and technology are basic to the texture of the film. Cell phones are both useless and unusable: calling out would reveal their location and incoming calls are from that human world these men cannot hear. Their elegant foreign car is no more able to deal with an early Russian snowfall than were myriad invading European armies throughout Russian history. Finally the soundtrack, a complete work in its own right by Sergei Shnurov, leader of the group "Leningrad," provides an often brutal, occasionally hypnotic, but always insistent musical accompaniment that conveys the four men to their ultimate end.

In the context of this opposition between "the pack" and "the community," it is somewhat surprising that one of the four "wolves" saves himself by transferring from Boomer to public transit. Is the appearance of the bus simply a clever irony or perhaps a gesture to a possible new beginning? The film gives no real support for the latter alternative.


Petr Buslov: Boomer (Bumer) (2003)

reviewed by Gerald McCausland 2003

17/10/03