VenueWalter Reade Theater
The title character in Russian provocateur Balabanov’s latest, most nihilistic crime drama yet is an elderly, not-all-there Afghan war veteran by the name of Ivan Skryabin, known to his acquaintances as “the major.” Skryabin subsists impassively at the bottom of the food chain in the new Russia, where life is cheap: tending the boiler in the miserable basement of a St. Petersburg building to which corrupt cops and mobsters alike bring their murder victims for him to cremate—no questions asked. Devoting his spare time to writing an epic novel about a historical outlaw, the Major’s only personal tie is to his self-involved daughter Sasha, who is engaged to a low-level mobster, who’s cheating on her with his boss’s daughter, who also happens to be Sasha’s fur-store co-worker. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out where this is all heading, as any number of corpses get fed into the furnace and, as ever, Balabanov teases the viewer with seemingly obvious metaphoric dimensions that turn out to be dead ends: the Major might be a relic of the Soviet Union’s failed dreams…or not. Seemingly a present-day companion piece to his gruesome, glasnost-set 2007 film Cargo 200, A Stoker is the cinematic equivalent of a blunt instrument: cheap and nasty, made with a flagrant disregard for dramatic values and a willfully ugly digital look, it’s a confrontationally artless example of Balabanov’s punk anti-aesthetic.