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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.
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
Top Customer Reviews
horror, pitch-black political satire, and fury at the sickness of one's
The film was said by it's director to have been explicitly made to
combat the growing nostalgia, fueled by Putin, for Soviet era Russia.
Based on true events that occurred in 1984, as the Soviet Union sank
ever deeper into the Afghanistan quagmire ('Cargo 200' is the code
names for bodies being brought back from the war), this depiction of a
'Deliverance' type grotesque family who sell illegal booze to finance
their fantasy of one day creating a utopia in the middle of nowhere,
and the complete psychopath of a police captain 'friend' who protects,
but ultimately turns on them, and ends up committing murder, along with
rape, torture and kidnapping of a young girl who happens by - all while
being paid by the government.
The slow build is handled pretty brilliantly, and we're surprised over
and over at exactly who turns out to do what - although the feeling of
doom hovers over the film from it's first moments. By the end of the
film, the depravity is so insane, and depicted in such a matter-
of-fact way, that the only reaction one can have is to laugh a terribly
disturbed, uncomfortable laugh.
It's as if Balabanov took torture porn, but turned it into the darkest
possible comedy performance-art by having it comment on the world in a
bigger way (but isn't that really what all the truly great horror films
The cinematography is also 'beautiful' in its almost loving framing of
ugliness, both human and industrial.Read more ›
I just found out Friday night, while paging through the brochure for this year's Cleveland International Film Festival (where once again I cannot afford to go to even one-tenth of the movies I'd like to see that are screening there), that Alexei Balabanov was given the inaugural Directors to Watch award in 2003 (presumably, though it didn't say, for his multi-award-winning War, one of two 2002 features he directed). No matter that Balabanov has been playing his trade since the eighties. Until recently, Balabanov was best-known for Brother, a hard-hitting drama starring the late Sergei Bodrov, Jr., killed in an icefall in 2002, at the age of thirty. (If the name sounds vaguely familiar, his father directed the international megahit Mongol, starring Tadanobu Asano, in 2008.) That all changed a few years ago. Not with the release of Gruz 200, Balabanov's absurdist satire of life in Socialist Russia; Kino did an international theatrical release, but it played a few film festivals (including CIFF in 2008, where I missed it entirely) and limited runs in Greece and New York, and then left the big screen until well after its DVD premiere (oddly, it opened in Belgium in November of 2009, eight months after it was released on DVD). The press ignored it almost entirely, especially in America; it shouldn't surprise anyone given what I said above that Rotten Tomatoes lists three newspaper reviews for the film from America, and they were in the New York Times, the New York Post, and the Village Voice. All three of those reviews are positive, which tells you exactly what the rest of America's distribution network actually thinks about all those movies that only ever open in New York and LA.Read more ›
PS: Just FYI the DVD is very basic, no extras - just the movie. It has English only subtitles, which you can turn on and off as you please.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Anyone who says they did not appreciate this film, did not understand it. It is a powerful, disturbing, political satire that leaves the viewer cringing, breathless, and... Read morePublished on November 1, 2012 by Andrew
Kidnapping. Rape. Torture. Defiling a Corpse. Think of Texas Chainsaw or the Hills Have Eyes set in a Soviet apartment. More flies. More graphically intense. Really disturbing. Read morePublished on September 5, 2012 by Celeste