Issue 40 (2013)

Egor Baranov: Nightingale the Robber (Solovei Razboinik, 2012)

reviewed by Erin Alpert © 2013

soloveiEgor Baranov’s Nightingale the Robber follows the adventures of a motley group of bandits, who more closely resemble the romantic and beloved Stenka Razin or Robin Hood than gangsters. Their loud, overdramatic and eccentric leader, Sevast'ian Grigor'evich Solov'ev (Ivan Okhlobystin), aka “Nightingale” (Solovei), comes from a long line of criminals, but began his own career as the vice president of a holding company. The film tells the story of how he enlists his various accomplices, including the accountant Aleksandr Konstantinovich Volodarskii (Evgenii Stichkin), aka “Debit” (Debet), the opera singer Izabella Iur'evna Papaiani (Oksana Fandera), aka “Prima,” the blacksmith Ignatii Nikolaevich Krivenko (Sergei Badiuk), aka “Hammer” (Molot), and the dog Zinochka. The gang’s activities attract the attention of the police and secret service, including secret agent N7 (Igor' Zhizhikin), who become obsessed with tracking the group. After deciding against emigration abroad to elude the authorities, the gang moves into a small house near the town of Kliuevo, where the locals approve of Nightingale’s particular style of crime and his treatment of corrupt officials. Even the abbess of the local convent (Mariia Golubkina) sympathizes with Nightingale. In the end, the order to liquidate the gang is given and they must face off against an entire army.

soloveiNightingale the Robber is the second film from the 24-year-old director Egor Baranov. Baranov’s first film, Suicides (Samoubiitsi, 2012), is a dark comedy about a group of people who bond over their failed suicide attempts and their quest to successfully accomplish the deed. The script for Nightingale the Robber was written in 2005 by lead actor Ivan Okhlobystin. The film is lightheartedly excessive, not only in terms of violence but also in the sheer number of film, literary, musical and other genres it draws on. In his review on, critic Aleksandr Dudik compares Nightingale the Robber to Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill (2003), calling it a “guilty pleasure in the purest form.” The film is highly stylized and excessively bloody. It is full of a wide variety of weapons ranging from swords and hammers, to machine guns and grenade launchers, with an even greater quantity of impressive explosions.

soloveiNightingale the Robber plays with genre markers. Its story of the renegade outlaw hero in the outskirts, for example, brings to mind the Western. Scriptwriter and lead actor Okhlobystin discusses the concept behind the film in an interview on the DVD release. He describes it as a “genre” film, specifically as an adventure film, as evidenced by the fast-paced escapades of the anti-hero and his friends. Promotional material for the film calls it a “ruthless comedy” (besposhchadnaia komediia). The humor in this film also draws from a variety of sources, including the over-the-top stereotypical characters, the pure excess of violence, and a few just goofy moments, such as when the nerdy former-accountant Debit hurts his hand punching an opponent in a fight and when the Police General Andrei Petrovich Serenadov (Aleksandr Strizhenov) and the Major (Pavel Priluchnyi) battle with remote-controlled tanks while strategizing about how to best defeat Nightingale’s gang.

soloveiBaranov uses music in this film both as a recurring motif within the diegesis, but also extra-diegetically to set up and then subvert expectations for critical moments. Not only does Baranov use an opera singer as one of his bandits, but his main character is a Nightingale in more than name only. He is illustrated as an animated singing nightingale in one scene and also performs a duet with Prima, accompanied by children playing the violin and piano, during the celebration of an agricultural festival in Kliuevo. This upbeat and moving performance is intercut with a scene of Debit and Hammer raiding a casino to go after the businessman who miraculously survived being thrown out of a window at the beginning of the film. A similar use of contrasting music happens in the final showdown. As Nightingale’s gang first faces off against their opponents, a guitar and drum play a heroic melody, reminiscent of the background music typical of the hero’s appearance in a Western. The tempo of the music increases as the battle is seen through increasingly frenetic cuts. As the fight wears on, the music changes to Aquarium’s “I Wanted to Sing”, performed by Boris Grebenshikov, a mellow acoustic song, and the action switches from rapid cuts to slow motion as the results of the fight become apparent.

soloveiNightingale the Robber self-consciously references the act of storytelling, utilizing many different ways that a tale can be told. The title itself is a reference to the villain Nightingale the Robber from Russian bylinas. The folkloric character used his deadly whistle to terrorize those around him, an act that is subtly alluded to when Nightingale whistles during the final battle. Somewhat disjointed and episodic, the plot unfolds through the telling of different types of stories. It begins with a voiceover about a legendary tale. It then switches modes and the opening credits are animated versions of various scenes from the film. The background information about the formation of the gang and their early activities is told in the form of a police briefing, with the film cutting back and forth between the gang’s actions and the police describing them. These tales, the audience soon learns, cannot be entirely trusted, as the police officer admits after the scene explaining Prima’s admission to the group that she probably did not say exactly what he described but concludes “a legend is a legend.” The film also incorporates modes of storytelling outside of live action cinema. Comic book-like written blurbs explain the various locations in the film and cuts to pages from a comic book serve as transitions between the scenes. Children tell fairy-tale-like stories about Nightingale in whispers while hiding under a blanket and this story is shown visually in an animated sequence. The film concludes with one of the police officers explaining that this is the conclusion of the official version of the story of Nightingale the Robber, but that some say a mysterious motorcyclist appears at midnight. Legends are eternal, it would seem.

As the credits roll, the action returns to some of the previous scenes, this time with the characters dancing awkwardly to upbeat music. This is a bizarre and oddly appropriate ending for a film that does not take itself too seriously. While the film has had mixed reviews, it appears that some viewers find Baranov’s particular style of comedy amusing, as it won the Audience Award at the Window to Europe Film Festival held in Vyborg in 2012.

Erin Alpert
University of Pittsburgh

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Works Cited

Dudik, Aleksandr,“'Solovei-Razboinik': Rossiiskii slavnii ptakh,", 26 November 2012.

Nightingale the Robber, Russia, 2012
Color, 87 minutes
Director: Egor Baranov
Screenplay: Ivan Okhlobystin
Cinematography: Iurii Korobeinkiov
Production Design: Igor' Kotsarev
Costume Design: Ekaterina Dyminskaia
Producers: Viktor Alisov, Liubov' Kalinskaia, Gennadii Merukulov, Ivan Okhlobystin
Music: Oleg Nesterov
Cast: Ivan Okhlobystin, Evgenii Stichkin, Oksana Fandera, Igor' Zhizhikin, Sergei Badiuk, Aleksandr Strizhenov, Pavel Priluchnyi, Mariia Golubkina
Production: Ortodoks studio

Egor Baranov: Nightingale the Robber (Solovei Razboinik, 2012)

reviewed by Erin Alpert © 2013

Updated: 14 Apr 13