War

[Война]

War film still

Russia, 2002, 120 minutes, Color
In Russian and English with English subtitles
Director: Aleksei Balabanov
Screenplay: Aleksei Balabanov
Camera: Sergei Astakhov
With: Aleksei Chadov, Ian Kelly, Sergei Bodrov Jr., Ingeborga Dapkunaite, Evklid Kyurdzidis, Giorgi Gurgulia
Producer: Sergei Selianov
Awards: Aleksei Chadkov won the Best Actor award at the Montreal World Film Festival, 2002; Sergei Bodrov Jr. won the Best Supporting Actor at the Nika awards, 2003 (Russia); and cinematographer Sergei Astakhov won a Critics Award at the Russian Guild of Film Critics, 2002.

Aleskei Balabanov's latest film presents two discrete, though interrelated, wars. First, Balabanov offers his cinematic view of the ongoing conflict raging between Russia and Chechnya that began in December 1994 when Russian troops invaded to oust Chechen president Dzhokhar Dudayev. In doing so, Balabanov not only chooses a contemporary topic, but also adds to the short, but growing list of Russian films on the Chechen War, which includes Sergei Bodrov Sr.'s award-winning 1996 film Prisoner of the Caucasus and Aleksandr Nevzorov's Purgatory (1997). The second war the film portrays is the independent battle fought by the mismatched buddies Ivan and John against Chechen warlord Aslan Gugaev, who is holding John's fiancée Margaret hostage until he is paid two million British pounds.

The stark simplicity of the movie's title, reiterated in the tagline which reads, "This is not Brother 3, this is War" (a reference to Balabanov's sequential blockbuster hits of 1997 and 2000—Brother and Brother 2, respectively) signifies war as a kind of existential state of being. Balabanov maintains this implication in his film by showing that the effects of the "Chechen conflict" extend far beyond Grozny and Moscow and into the proper drawing rooms of upper middle class Brits. Furthermore, combat is not limited to military action but is also played out in the microcosmic sphere of intimate personal relationships, as well as in the macrocosmic space of global politics. The character of John, a British actor who sets out on a pan-European scavenger hunt to amass the ransom money demanded to free his fiancée from the pit of a prison at Gugaev's military base, reveals the personal and global polarities of war.

War film still

Despite the contemporary topic of the Chechen War, the film renders war as a perpetual way of life for Russian men. By pairing two opposite characters in the lead roles—a Russian soldier, Ivan, played by Aleksei Chadov, and a wimpy British actor, John, played by Ian Kelly—Balabanov links the perception of war to national perspectives. The film portrays the Russian as inherently linked to war and the Englishman as poorly suited, indeed unfit, for it. The liberal Brit concerns himself with human rights violations, the dilemma of murder as a prerequisite for victory, and the inability to "fight" effectively via international diplomatic measures. Ivan, although new to combat (he fought for only two weeks before he was captured by Gugaev), innately understands war as necessarily brutal, violent, and corrupt. Just short of offering these national stereotypes as biologically determined, Balabanov includes a scene that underscores the process of acculturation that forms Russian men into valiant warriors. During a brief visit home to Siberia, Ivan goes to the hospital to visit his father, who with enormous pride for his son explains the necessity of fighting in a war: " war makes you a man and to be a man is right."

These sentiments along with a series of discriminatory representations of Chechens have elicited negative reviews that condemn Balabanov as increasingly nationalistic and his films as nothing but intolerant political manifestos. Other critics, however, applaud Balabanov's aggressive stance against political correctness, which would silence the unfortunate truths of war. As Anton Dolin writes: "The Chechen War, like the war America waged against Vietnam, is a necessary topic for books, songs, and films; it is an important and painful experience, about which it is forbidden to stay silent" (Iskusstvo kino 7(2002): 28.

Aleksei Balabanov

director photo

Aleksei Balabanov was born in Sverdlovsk on February 25, 1959. He made his directorial debut in 1989 with the documentary Egor and Nastia. His first feature film, Happy Days, was released in 1992 and won instant fame across Europe. Since then, he has directed seven films and is reportedly working on an eigth, the title of which is rumored to be The American. In recent articles on the director he is disparagingly labeled a Russian nationalist whose films have become increasingly anti-Western (read: anti-American). However, he is also championed as one of the best contemporary Russian directors whose films range from blockbuster hits to arthouse sensations. Balabanov presently works at STW Film Company in St. Petersburg, which he helped found in 1994 with producer Sergei Sel'ianov.

1992 Happy Days
1994 Castle
1995 Trofim from The Arrival of a Train
1997 Brother
1998 Of Freaks and Men
2000 Brother 2
2002 War
2002 The River
2004: Prophets and Gains Debut Films at Pittsburgh Filmmakers STW [СТВ] Film Company Pygmalion Productions NTV-Profit Film Company

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