Pyotr Mamonov, Pyotr Zaychenko, Vladimir Kashpur, Natalya Kolyakanova
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…messy, loud, quiet, shocking, invigorating, just like a great punk song.
This year’s Russian Resurrection Film Festival is hosting a mini Pavel Lungin retrospective, with the filmmaker’s latest, Leaving Afghanistan also screening, and the producer of that film Evgeniy Panfilov in attendance.
In terms of the retrospective, the festival is screening The Wedding (2000) and Roots (2005), but the real gem here (apart from Leaving Afghanistan which is bravura, singular filmmaking in its own right) is 1990’s Taxi Blues, one of the best films from anywhere in the world during the ‘90s.
To put things in context, Communism was in the process of breaking down in the USSR during this period, and the film can be viewed as an allegory.
Shlykov (played by the recently departed Pyotr Zaychenko) is a taxi driver in Moscow. We meet him as he’s driving a bunch of rowdy, drunk larrikins, who eventually do a runner on him. Seeking justice, he tracks down one of the passengers, musician Lyosha (played by Russian punk music icon Pyotr Mamonov).
Shlykov is a ‘man’s man’, a brutish type, representative of the old USSR, whilst Lyosha is a free spirit. Shlykov is all brawn, Lyosha is all words and creative spirit. During the course of Taxi Blues, these two polar opposites go through various misadventures, ultimately learning from each other, and reflecting what might be in store for the people of the new Russia.
Pavel Lungin’s debut is stripped down, hard-edged but with plenty to say and full of energy. The relationship at its core and the film’s immediacy are reminiscent of the French New Wave, ‘70s Hollywood and American (Jim Jarmusch’s Down By Law) and world (Aki Kaurismaki) independent cinema of the ‘80s, but with a distinctly Russian twist. Of course, all of these film movements are interconnected, and it’s a joy to watch pure cinema influence a filmmaker at the centre of such cultural upheaval.
Taxi Blues is messy, loud, quiet, shocking, invigorating, just like a great punk song.