Issue 67 (2020)

Rezo Gigineishvili: The Sober Driver (Trezvyi voditel’, 2019)

reviewed by Peter Rollberg © 2020

trezvy voditelThe intricacies of Moscow’s nightlife make for a rewarding comedy subject, filled with action, silly misunderstandings, and countless calamities caused by omnipresent hypocrisy. Such is the stage for Rezo Gigineishvili’s The Sober Driver: respectable family men attend glitzy clubs, get drunk to the point of amnesia and hire a dutiful “sober driver” (a peculiar profession that does not exist in the United States but only in some European countries and Japan) to take them home where they can cure their inevitable hangovers. The young provincial Artem (Viktor Khoriniak) joins his friend Stanislav (Andrei Burkovskii) to get a taste of working as a “sober driver.” Of course, nothing goes as expected, and the visit turns into a major headache for all parties involved.

trezvy voditelGeorgian-born director and producer Rezo Gigineishvili has made it his specialty to capture Russia’s neo-capitalist lifestyle in an optimistic tone—with a few question marks and endnotes added. While the plots and images of his lightweight movies unmistakably convey commercial indulgence and the milieu of the rich (fancy cars, five-star hotels, designer clothes), Gigineishvili does not fully embrace the narcissism of the superrich and those eager to serve them; however, one waits in vain for explicit social criticism. Entertainment to Gigineishvili is supreme, and this approach pays off. Among his previous movies were a few that scored well at the box office—Heat (Zhara, 2006) and Love with an Accent (Liubov’ s aktsentom, 2012) come to mind—, indicating that his formula of keeping a slight distance from the decadent Russian establishment must appeal to certain audiences. To be sure, Gigineishvili’s new film is not critical even in the most moderate sense of the word—the horrendous social divides that tear Russian society apart are barely touched upon and, if mentioned at all, serve as a source of amusement rather than outrage. Political or historical references are missing completely. Indeed, all characters in The Sober Driver, winners and losers alike, initially accept the rules of the off-putting nightly game, no questions asked.

trezvy voditelSome master these rules to the point of disgusting perfection; only when their chic masks fall do they reveal their internal essence of vulgarity and violence. An example is a lifestyle teacher who tells young women seeking rich suitors and potential husbands how to identify such men, how to distinguish the real thing from fakes, and how to respond to advances so that the encounter goes beyond a one-night stand and leads to lasting wealth. Then again, the most interesting characters are not entirely zombified but keep a degree of common sense and moral standards, the latter being negotiable. For Artem and Stas and the women they meet, almost everything in this hellish environment seems to be for sale, but at the end it turns out that there are limits even for “sober drivers.”

trezvy voditelArtem is clearly provincial in his sensibilities while his friend Stanislav/Stasik is a seasoned Moscow city slicker. A clash of mentalities is inevitable and produces some genuinely comical effects (although one may wonder where Artem has been living all those years given that the behavioral standards of the megapolis are so incomprehensible to him). Artem’s benevolent naïveté and gullibility seem charming, but perhaps a tad too much. He suddenly becomes the object of attraction to a young socialite, Kristina, (Irina Martynenko) who wants him and not Stas as her “designated driver.” Later, it turns out that “Kristina” is not rich at all and not even “Kristina” and that she pretends to be somebody else, just like so many others in this confusing environment.

trezvy voditelEach of Artem’s attempts to solve a problem only makes the situation worse: he is losing money by the boatload, much to the horror of his protector Stasik. Artem does not understand Moscow and, when he finally does, cannot accept the all-for-sale (including personal dignity and integrity) principle that governs Muscovites’ nightlife. But in the end, Stasik, too, loses his well-trained composure as a humble servant to the drunken rich and regains his human self-respect. At that point, when all his plans literally crash, he decides to accompany Artem on his move back to the provinces. There, we are told, he will find the love and human normalcy that have been completely eradicated from the Russian capital. 

trezvy voditelThe movie is fast-paced and features an undeniable erotic flair, often conveyed in a heavy-handed manner. However, it should be said in Gigineishvili’s favor that he is not as shamelessly imitative of Western plot patterns as are the majority of Russian commercial directors and successfully strives to retain a modicum of wit and warmth. This is to a large extent accomplished by the two main protagonists who display a believable chemistry throughout.

Despite awful reviews, Gigineishvili’s film managed to attract sufficiently large numbers of viewers to earn the producers a profit. Thus, we will soon be able to watch more such films, free-market-capitalist in content and national in form. 

Peter Rollberg,
The George Washington University

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The Sober Driver, Russia, 2018
Color, 95 min., 1:2.39, Dolby Digital 5 +
Director Rezo Gigineishvili
Scriptwriters Rezo Gigineishvili, Veta Geraskina, Ivan Baranov
DoP Mikhail Khasaya
Production Design Fedor Savel’ev
Music Ivan Dorn
Editing Iurii Karikh
Cast: Viktor Khoriniak, Andrei Burkovskii, Irina Martynenko, Ianina Studilina
Producers Eduard Iloyan, Vitalii Shliappo, Andrei Trotsiuk, Denis Zhalinskii, Aleksandr Kushaev, Rezo Gigineishvili
Production Nebo Film Company Nebo, Yellow, Black and White, with support from the Cinema Fund

Rezo Gigineishvili: The Sober Driver (Trezvyi voditel’, 2019)

reviewed by Peter Rollberg © 2020

Updated: 2020