1990 Directed by Pavel Lounguine. Starring Piotr Mamonov, Piotr Zaitchenko, Vladimir Kachpour, Natalia Koliakanova, Elena Safonova.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., June 7, 1991
This French-Soviet co-production won the 1990 Cannes Film Festival Best Director award. For us it is a remarkable glimpse of the Russia we never see and hear. It also deals with taboo themes like Russian anti-Semitism, artistic self-censorship, class envy and alcoholic self-destruction. Lounguine's debut film is a fascinating little story about the fluctuating personal relationship between a Russian cabdriver, Chlykov (Zaitchenko) and an alcoholic, Jewish, saxophone player, Lyosha (Mamonov). After a night of carousing, Lyosha stiffs Chlykov for the cab fare. Lyosha tracks Chlykov down, punches him out and takes his saxophone. Their paths continue to connect up and Lyosha shamelessly hits Chlykov up for drinking money and a place to sleep. Lyosha becomes a kind of indentured servant, staying at Chlykov's apartment and doing his bidding. Chlykov's contempt for this dissolute musician gradually gives way to a missionary zeal to make the wastrel over into a respectable “prole.” A complexly dependent love-hate relationship develops -- a war of attitudes. Chlykov is willing to do whatever it takes to bring about Lyosha's transformation: cajole, insult, batter and comfort (though physical force is his dominant mode of expression). Lyosha (played by an actual Russian rock star notorious for his wild lifestyle) sinks deeper into drugs, music, alcohol and destruction. The relationship parallels the situation imposed on Russian artists by the state government (as well as paralleling the moral struggles of the, no doubt, influential film Taxi Driver). Lyosha finally slips away with a touring jazz impresario who offers him a tour of the United States. He returns to Russia a celebrity and when Chlykov sees the musician on a giant outdoor TV screen, he becomes pathetically envious of the fame and fortune. This twist of fate is beyond his understanding. Taxi Blues is a visually stylish first film that layers a modest story about the shifting relationship between two contrasting characters and embeds it in a fabric of contemporary political metaphor.