Cargo 200 ***
Directed by Aleksei Balabanov
Written by Aleksei Balabanov
Agniya Kuznetsova as Angelika
Aleksei Poluyan as Captain Zhurov
Leonid Gromov as Artem, Professor of Scientific Atheism
Aleksei Serebryakov as Aleksey
"Cargo 200" is the first release from this year that I was able to see, and if it ends up being the only film that I see in 2009 (a concept that is hysterical to me), I would consider it a superb year. Blacker and more violent than any horror movie I've seen in recent memory, but also funnier than any straight comedy I've seen in a while, "Cargo 200" delves into the tortured and disturbed psyche of a human being whose mind is warped from his occupation, and weaves a tapestry of absurd violence, while also proving to be quite a good satire on the state of a country in the midst of turmoil. It is unusual and dark, and the first of many excellent films from overseas that the month of January is providing.
Set in 1986 and at a time of political unrest in Russia, "Cargo 200" revolves around a very shady figure, a military man who lives in a very secluded section of the forest in a home that shares with an alcohol salesman. Customers that come in include a seedy ladies man, who makes the mistake of leaving the girl he picked up at a club in the car, making her the target of our military man. It is soon that she is kidnapped by him, and he holes him up in his apartment, and while he is raping her and allowing others to do the same, or dropping a dead body to lay in the bed beside her, his mother sits in the living room watching television, and getting excited when a black person appears on the screen.
If you do not find anything funny in the absurd situations that I described above, "Cargo 200" is certainly not for you. Its humor is some of the darkest imaginable, with subjects like rape and murder being the sources for humor. Accompanying the dark jokes is the even darker cinematography, which turns every shot of Russia into a seedy and dreary place, the type of visuals that I enjoy watching more than anything. And the performances are all quite good, with Agniya Kuznetsova playing Angelika, the girl kidnapped. While most of her scenes consist of her swarming around the bed naked, sometimes with a dead body next to her and sometimes covered in blood, Kuznetsova still is the only seemingly serious portion of this otherwise outrageous movie. And Aleksei Poluyan, as the evil Captain Zhurov, plays his part with a great amount of strangeness and creepiness without an ounce of sympathy in him, and yet I yearned for his presence with quiet disgust.
I have always been attracted to the rather disturbed sense of film making from overseas, as opposed to the critically acclaimed French dramas or the more experimental works that show up from time to time. But the particular warped sense of humor from countries like Russia, or Denmark, or Norway as seen in films like this, "The Boss of It All," or "The Bothersome Man," as well as the more extremely dark comedies from places like Hungary or Romania, with examples like "Lunacy," "Taxidermia," and "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu," is so unlike anything that one can see in a United States comedy, and all of these films also have this philosophical poetry attached to them that really elevate them (and this one especially) from a simple bloody mess to a film that is actually worth watching.