Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bonus DVD review: "Cargo 200"

"Cargo 200" is a bleak and disturbing Russian drama about decay. Set in 1984, during a time when the old Soviet Union seemed to be replacing one expiring octogenarian leader after another, the country appears to be literally falling apart. Even a powerful colonel in the Army lives in a shabby apartment with cracked plaster.

Based on actual events, "Cargo 200" has an elliptical storyline that at first feels confusing, but slowly narrows to a single razor-sharp point, a rotting bedroom where a young girl is being repeatedly tormented and violated. Her captor is an icy police colonel, who kidnapped her and handcuffs her to the bed in his mother's apartment, convinced that she is his unfeeling wife. In one of his attempts to gain her ardor, the captain brings a violent convict he has shot in the arm to the apartment and has the prisoner rape her. When that doesn't work, he really gets nasty.

The captain is a symbol for the entirety of crumbling Communism: corrupt, irreligious, completely amoral, yet in some deep recess of his shadowy consciousness he recognizes that he's dying, and sees the girl as his last chance at rebirth. His elderly mother, who sits drinking vodka all day, watching television while indifferent to the horde of flies attracted to the increasing number of bodies in the next room, represents the complacent older generation. The girl and her erstwhile paramour, a hustler with a leather jacket and his own car, are the new wave emerging, content to enjoy the new freedoms allowed by the rifts in the old Soviet order, but in their own way equally corrupt and damned.

Writer/director Alexey Balabanov arrives at these themes methodically, building his vision in a way that requires a patient audience. The first half of the film offers few clues to the horrors that will follow, following a different set of characters that intersect, and slowly cede the stage to darker creatures. A flighty professor, the brother of the army colonel, suffers a car breakdown while traveling to see his mother, and begs help from a moonshiner, with whom he argues about the role of religion in society.

The title of "Cargo 200" refers to the codename given to Soviet soldiers who are killed in Afghanistan, and brought home in cheap boxes to await burial by an indifferent bureaucracy. The sadistic police captain at one point is ordered to take charge of such cargo -- a none too subtle example of the dead burying the dead.

As for extras -- there aren't any, not even a theatrical trailer.

Movie: 3 stars
Extras: 1 star

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