A Friend of the Deceased

1997, R, 100 min. Directed by Vyacheslav Krishtofovich. Starring Alexandre Lazarev, Tatiana Krivitska, Eugen Pachin, Constantin Kostychin, Elena Korikova, Angelika Nevolina.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., June 12, 1998

In Krishtofovich's A Friend of the Deceased, the fall of the Soviet Union and its Communist infrastructure brings with it not freedom, but instead a kind of cold isolation, spurred on by a sudden upsurge in capitalist methodology that renders old friendships null and void and stifles almost every other aspect of life. A bleak, bitter satire from the Ukrainian director Krishtofovich (Adam's Rib), the film is set in Kiev, where the intellectual professor Anatoli (Lazarev) is trapped performing menial jobs to make ends meet. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, he's discovered that his worldly views and mental prowess suddenly mean nothing to his employers or even his friends. His wife Katia (Nevolina) is blatantly cheating on him in the night and making money hand over fist as an ad exec during the day, and even his old buddy Dima (Pachin) seems to be racing down the capitalist highway to hell, selling vodka and trinkets out of his tiny corner store. When Anatoli bemoans his fate in the new world order, Dima helpfully suggests that he take out a contract on his straying wife. Heartened, Anatoli strikes upon the seemingly brilliant idea of taking out a hit on himself instead, which he does. Not long after (though after his wife finally moves out of their tiny flat), he meets up with the diminutive, sexy prostitute Vika (Krivitska) who, predictably, teaches him that not everything in his new life has to be awful. Second thoughts about the self-imposed death sentence bubble to the surface, and suddenly Anatoli finds himself taking out a second contract, via a second hit man, on the first. From here on out it's a game of cat and mouse as Anatoli must avoid killer A and hope that killer B gets the job done before Anatoli ends up in the pine box he was so looking forward to. Shades of Bulworth, I know, but Krishtofovich and his spirited players are after far larger fish. As a metaphor for the spiritual malaise following the collapse of communism in the Ukraine, it's a grim, dark spectacle of mistaken identity and covert emotions. No matter what course of action Anatoli decides on, he is still no more than leftover brain cells, a smart guy trapped in a dumb world. Working for pennies as a translator for a corrupt businessman, he shivers the night away while sleeping on the couch (his wife won't let him touch her). Lazarev has a magically expressive face. His lines are few and far between sometimes, but when he finally meets up with the elfin Vika, they're not necessary; his weary visage says it all. A grim, Eastern comedy of (t)errors, A Friend of the Deceased poses the question: “What price happiness?” and then answers via Lennon: “Happiness is a warm gun.”

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