Even before being released Alexey Balabanov s new film Cargo 200 attracted much attention in the press. The critics unanimously acknowledge Cargo 200 as one of the most significant films of the year, and many consider it to be Russian director Alexey Balabanov s (Brother, Of Freaks And Men) best film yet.
The title of Balabanov's twelfth film is a military term for the coffins transporting dead soldiers back home during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The effects of that decade-long conflict provide a unifying theme for this highly controversial film that recalls the work of Gaspar Noe and Michael Haneke but with a distinctly Russian point-of-view.
Cargo 200 begins in 1984 with the introduction of two brothers: a Soviet Army colonel, and the head of the Faculty of Scientific Communism at Leningrad University. The university professor travels to visit his mother in a remote town. When his car brakes down, he stops at a rural farmhouse occupied by a husband, wife and their Vietnamese farm hand. The professor engages in a philosophical argument about the existence of God with the family patriarch, whose heated criticisms of official atheism are fueled by Utopian dreams and vodka distilled in the family barn.
Meanwhile, a young man and the daughter of a Soviet secretary of a regional party committee meet at a party. The couple decides to take a drive, and their destination is the rural farmhouse. Lurking in the shadows of the farmhouse is Zhurov, a character vaguely based on Russian serial killer Gennady Mikhasevich. Although Mikhasevich was simply a depraved lunatic, Balabanov presents Zhurov as an emblem of both human perversion and the manifest corruption of the Soviet government. Zhurov s appearance signals a series of loathsome events that form the rest of the film's narrative.
In a Wall Street Journal interview, Alexey Balabanov spoke of Cargo 200 in the following terms: "I show what filth we lived in. Society was sick from 1917 onwards." In light of Balabanov's remarks, Cargo 200 might best be summarized as a grim epitaph for the death of the former Soviet Union.
Art house meets grind house in Cargo 200, Alexey Balabanov s morbidly compelling thriller set in the Soviet Union. --Jeanette Catsoulis, The New York Times
The new movie year gets off to a shocking start with Cargo 200, a wicked black comedy from Russia... Make no mistake about it: Cargo 200 is bold filmmaking that will turn off many moviegoers. Others, like this critic, will find much of value in this parable about life in Russia, both pre- and post-Putin. --V.A. Musetto, New York Post
For nearly a decade, director Alexei Balabanov and producer Sergei Selyanov have ridden a rising wave of nationalism in Russia to box office success with tales of local heroes triumphing over Chechen separatists, American crime bosses, and underworld hit men. But their latest film, set in 1984, has left audiences feeling uncomfortable by taking aim at a new target: the Soviet Union. The gritty thriller, set in 1984 in the USSR's twilight years, has triggered controversy with an unremittingly bleak and violent portrayal of the period. --Andrew Osborn, The Wall Street Journal