The dysfunctional Shamanov family is shaken by the return of the eldest son, Victor (Sergey Garmash), who disappeared for 25 years and became a dangerous underworld boss.

27 Aug 2012 - 12:00 AM  UPDATED 27 Aug 2012 - 12:00 AM

Intense family drama is a window to the old and new Russia.

RUSSIAN RESURRECTION FILM FESTIVAL: Dysfunctional doesn’t begin to describe the Shamanovs, the extended family at the centre of this violent, dark and sprawling Russian melodrama from director/writer Oleg Pogodin.

The performances are top notch

The patriarch is nearly 100, incontinent and seemingly in a vegetative state. His son Grigorii (Bogdan Stupka) is a bully and tyrant who belts his adult sons and his long-suffering wife Nadezhda (Larisa Malevannaia) when they displease him, which is often.

A gathering of the clan to celebrate grandad’s centenary at Grigorii’s rambling home in the steppes of southern Russian is the setting for this lurid tale of retribution which blends an intense family drama with a blood-splattered crime thriller and a trenchant commentary on Russia’s cultural identity and turbulent history.

All the siblings and their partners are deeply flawed characters. Dmitrii (Igor Savochkin) is a weakling who often feels his father’s wrath and has a wife and kids who show him little respect. The glamorous Natalia (Ekaterina Rednikova) is trapped in an unhappy marriage with an impotent (figuratively and literally), embittered scientist, Igor (Gleb Podgorodintsev), and gets her jollies by bonking a farm worker. Andrei (Ivan Dobronravov) at least has the courage to stand up to his father, telling him, 'You’ve beaten and fucked up all of them but not me".

Older sister Tamara (Evgeniia Dmitrieva) turns up with her boorish journalist husband Boris (Aleksandr Nazarov), who’s Jewish. The glum, fractious mood lightens temporarily with the unexpected arrival of Viktor (Sergei Garmash), Grigorii’s eldest son and the apple of his eye.

Viktor is a mobster who had served time in prison. But he’s only mildly reproached by his father for having stayed away for 25 years without making any contact. Grigorii is anxious to know if his son had killed anyone, assuring him, 'God cannot hear us and I will not judge you".

Clearly violence is in the family’s genes as it emerges Grigorii’s father fought for the Revolution and slew neighbouring kulaks (farmers who were considered class enemies because they owned land).

Pasha (Vladimir Epifantsev) worships Viktor and begs his brother to let him accompany him to Moscow as a partner in crime, which leads to a vicious fight. However, an even greater danger looms: A bunch of hit men are pursuing Viktor to avenge the death of one of their own. Viktor’s former lover Svetka (Angela Koltzova) is another pivotal character.

The interplay between the warring siblings and their father generates a high degree of tension and dramatic energy, but the film veers into melodramatic overkill at times, particularly with the erratic behaviour of Natalia and Boris. Also, a fierce ideological argument between Grigorii and his brother Aleksei (Pyotr Zaichenko), a former boss of the local Communist party, is didactic and heavy-handed.

The Shamanovs could be viewed as a metaphor for Russia’s turbulent history and how some of its citizens are victims of its past. The family is outwardly prosperous and successful but riven by conflict and under threat from the criminal underworld.

The performances are top notch, led by Stupka as the vile monster Grigorii and Garmash, who has an imposing, threatening presence as Viktor but pays a terrible price for his sins.

Garmash won best actor at the Russian Academy of Cinema Arts and Sciences’ Nika awards and Stupka was awarded the Golden Eagle for best male cameo by the separate National Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.

The production values are impressive, not least Antoine Vivas Denisov’s luminous wide screen cinematography, getting the maximum value from the relatively generous budget of $US6 million. But the subtitling is often inexcusably sloppy: 'I’ve got nothing to loose""¦'that’s a good""¦ 'the steppe is easy to be set of fire".

Given the film’s achievements and its relevance to modern-day Russia, the filmmakers must have been disappointed with its box-office failure in the home market.


2 hours 7 min