Two famous films came to mind watching Aleksey Balabanov's adventure drama, "Ya tozhe khochu" [Eng. Title: Me Too] - Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker, and Alejandro Jadorowsky's Fando & Lis, even if the style and visuals are closer to the former.
During an afternoon rendezvous at a Saint Petersburg sauna, ageing rock singer Oleg (Oleg Garkusha) tells his friend Sanja (Aleksandr Mosin) - a bandit, about a place where one could find 'happiness' - a place aptly named the bell-tower of happiness. They decide to drop everything and head to the holy site, and pick up a friend on their way - Yuri (Yuriy Matveev) - an alcoholic, along with his elderly father. As they leave the city, they're joined by a hitch-hiking prostitute named Alisa (Alisa Shitikova).
It will become apparent that the mythical site is located in a region that's experiencing a nuclear winter, having suffered a major catastrophe on the lines of Chernobyl. The landscape and events turn surreal from then on, until they reach the bell-tower that would transport them to a state of happiness...
Even though it could be difficult to understand what the characters were saying most of the time (especially when the DVD forgets to include subtitles), the film's irony cannot be lost on its viewers. The ingenious characterisation of these social outcasts lend credence to the notion that it is the society at large that's the more happier with these people leaving them, rather than the other way around. It is also the mystical and mythological approach of heroes having to endure extreme trials in order to achieve happiness, that's played out with a touch of irony towards the end.
A stand-out feature of the film is its outstanding cinematography - the away-from-tourist-trail images of Saint Petersburg of today, locations reminiscent of Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev and Zerkalo - but against a contrasting backdrop, and the elaborate compositions, makes this a visual treat. The director has consciously avoided mimicking Hollywood - sadly the case in many modern Russian films, and has allowed enough room for us to judge his characters with a sense of humour. Despite the language barrier, I found the film witty, engaging, and enthralling, and for that reason alone, it is Recommended Viewing..!
The Nudity: Alisa Shitikova
During a sequence, there is an astonishing instance of nudity from Alisa Shitikova traversing the countryside stark naked, knee-deep in snow, as her character tries to catch-up with fellow passengers. As far as I can fathom, this is no mean feat even for a ethnic Russian, and my deep respects go to her for completing this scene. If you thought Stallone was impressive in Cliffhanger, wait till you watch this..!