Denis Vlasenko, Anna Slyu, Pavel Chinarev, Vilma Kutavivcuite, Alexandra Ursulyak
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…an exhilarating thriller with some splashes of black humour.
‘I have the right to testify,’ screams a business woman as she’s manhandled out of court halfway through the latest film from Ivan I. Tverdovskiy (Zoology). And it’s easy to understand where her anger stems from. Dragged up on trumped charges of drink driving, she initially sits in astonishment as it becomes apparent that not only is the police officer who charged her on the take, but so is the judge, the prosecution, and even her own defence lawyer. This is the corrupt world of Jumpman where in Russia, there are those who jump and those who are told to jump.
17-year-old Denis (Denis Vlasenko) falls very much into the latter category. Given up for adoption as a baby, Denis has grown up with rare genetic disorder which means he can’t feel pain. When his mum, Oksana (Anna Slyu), turns up to bust him out of the orphanage, Denis feels that he’s finally attained everything he needs. Mum, meanwhile, is a shambles from day one. A heavy drinker, she regularly spends her time roaming the flat they share together in her underwear and stoking a more than uncomfortable flirtatious relationship with her son. This borderline incestuous care of duty is only the tip of the iceberg before mummy encourages her son to jump out in front of cars for money. Choosing only the wealthiest victims, Oksana’s motley crew offer to drop the charges for large amounts of cash, whilst sending anyone who dares to stand up to them to kangaroo court. See above.
From the minute Denis steps out of his orphanage, Jumpman wears its political leanings on its sleeve. Tverdovskiy has said in interviews that he is fascinated by the notion of adults in 2018 who have grown up only really knowing Putin overseeing Russia. This is echoed in Denis’ genetic condition; he feels no pain, numb even, and happily goes along with what he’s told by those above him in the food chain. He naively trusts the law enforcement of Moscow in the shape of Oksana’s cop buddy. When Denis begins to question his place in this new world and how it’s being run, Jumpman shows that it doesn’t help to question those who are looking out for you, regardless of how much they hurt you.
In terms of an allegory, it’s all about as subtle as the vehicles that plough into Denis, with Oksana being a clear stand in for Mother Russia itself. However, none of that detracts from the fact that Jumpman is an exhilarating thriller with some splashes of black humour. As Denis, Vlasenko offers up a timid, wide eyed performance as he struts through Moscow like Bambi to the slaughterhouse. His naivety is really the only bright light in the film and it’s crushing to watch it dim as the story advances. His performance is supported by Tverdovskiy’s slick visuals and long takes that allow his characters to breathe against a background of blue light and vape smoke.
With a name like Jumpman, and with his Deadpool like condition, comparisons to superhero movies are likely. Get past this presumption early however, and what you’re left with is a twisted take on the coming of age tale, which only struggles because its political point scoring is so on the nose.