Brother (Брат) Made in: Russia Language: Russian Director: Aleksei Balabanov Starring: Sergei Bodrov, Yuri Kuznetsov, Svetlana Pismichenko, Viktor Sukhorukov, Sergei Murzin, Mariyz Zhukova, Vyacheslav Butusov Year: 1997
Synopsis: In post Cold War Russian, Danila Bagrov (Sergei Bodrov) is a simple, quiet young man who has just been discharged from the army. At the behest of his mother, a near penniless Danila travels to St. Petersburg to find his brother, Viktor (Viktor Sukhorukov).
Once he arrives, Danila saves a poor street peddler named Hoffman (Yuri Kuznetsov), from a mafia thug. The simple Danila befriends Hoffman, a German immigrant whom Danila nicknames Nemets (German). Nemets offers simple words of wisdom, and becomes somewhat of a mentor to the young protagonist.
Danila's brother Viktor turns out to be an effective hitman looking to break free from his round-headed ruthless boss, Krugly (Sergei Murzin). Krugly is a nickname with actually means "Round."
Viktor has been hired to kill a Chechen mob boss, and passes the lucrative job to Danila. Danila accomplishes the task, and soon gets dragged deeper into the dark world of gangsters and killers. With a simple sense of justice and morality, Danila becomes very good at killing bad guys.
But as each violent encounter becomes more and more dangerous, Danila learns that the Russia he once knew apparently has transformed into a place where the concepts of family, justice, and friendship are now made complicated by wealth and poverty.
The Good: Made on a very low budget (roughly $10,000), Brother has a simple storyline that is full of social commentary.
Through visuals and simple dialogue, all is cleverly presented yet easy to interpret and understand. Director Aleksei Balabanov does a good job touching upon many major social issues concerning Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union, such as the rise of organized crime, concerns about directionless youths and the breakup of the traditional family, and the many implications of having access to lots of money.
Bodrov plays a plodding, half-dopey character who is also very likeable. His lack of emotion amidst some of the madness he witnesses is not to be taken literally, yet it somehow works in the context of the film and creates some good humor as well.
For fans of modern Russian music star Vyacheslav Butusov, look for an appearance by the artist himself.
The Bad: I understand that Brother was shot on a very limited budget, but the exposure of the film stock and use of filters could have made the movie more visually presentable. It has a raw look that one could argue as being indie, but since Balabanov does such a good job handling the story, a little more effort in the technical cinematography could have won over a few more viewers.
Who would like this film: Brother is for you if you like independent and foreign films. Although the story is easy to follow, it would be best appreciated by those already familiar with art house cinema. An understanding of Russian culture, especially an ability to analyze pre and post Soviet Union perspectives, would also help.
Although I'm not entirely familiar with Russian history and culture, the film came across as an effective commentary on certain social problems. It's debatable as to whether or not everyone would agree that St. Petersburg really is as dark and depressing as Balabanov portrays it to be.
But in an effort to provide some balance, the director also presents the message that there is at least some hope for the future.
Overall, Brother is a great example of being able to tell a good story on a tiny budget.