Friday, 24 May 2013

Alexei Balabanov: Last master of a bygone era in film

Iconic Russian film director Alexei Balabanov passed away on May 18, 2013. He is best known for his portrayal of Russia in the 1990s, particularly in his films Brother and Brother 2.

Balabanov was born on Feb. 25, 1959 in the Urals city of Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg) and earned a degree in foreign languages. He fought with the Soviet army in Afghanistan, an experience he drew on for his films War and Cargo 200. In 1990, after completing an advanced training course in scriptwriting and filmmaking, Balabanov settled in St. Petersburg.

Balabanov’s first important production was Happy Days, shot in 1991. Constructed from the debris of the Soviet Union, the film heralded a new era in Russian cinematography. In a sense, Balabanov’s films are comparable to the works of western film directors. Certain parallels can be drawn between his movies and the early work of Quentin Tarantino in their shared taste for crime, violence and a scarcely justified passion for atrocities.

One of Balabanov’s most scandalous movies, Of Freaks and Men, which provoked mixed feelings in even the most sophisticated film fans, can only be compared to The Idiots by Lars von Trier and 120 Days of Sodom by Paolo Pasolini.

However, Balabanov is a purely Russian film director in spirit, who is also a product of his time. He never cared for the glory of foreign film festivals, preferring to express his love of his country and the views of a true Russian Orthodox Christian. All of his films were about Russia. He once said: “I don’t like festivals. They are boring. I don’t know anyone in the government. I don’t keep in touch with anyone. I live in St. Petersburg, and I don’t hang out anywhere. All I do is make films. It’s a good thing if they like them upstairs too. What’s the harm in that?”

Although Balabanov was frequently perceived by film critics and the public as a master of black humor and glorifier of violence, his films were not limited to crime dramas. He worked in a wide range of genres, completing 14 feature films, including the situational drama Brother and its sequel, Brother 2.

More here.

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