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Wednesday, July 02, 2008



Beating down the audience is what the crudest entertainments try to do, and in this respect, and in every other, “Wanted” is nothing new.
Those are the words of New York Times film critic A. O. Scott, reviewing the new major motion picture Wanted starring Angelina Jolie and directed by Timur Bekmambetov, whom Scott describes as "a Russian filmmaker who has earned a cult following with his razzly-dazzly thrillers Day Watch and Night Watch.

While it's very unlikely that any Slavic Russian would acknowledge a person with Central Asian name like "Bekmambetov" as being "Russian" in any sense that means anything (not to long ago, Russians were rounding up people with last names like that and ejecting them from the country as spies), the irony of Bekmambetov is really quite extreme. Let's reflect upon a little, shall we?

But before we do, a word about Ms. Jolie. Here we have an actress who, in her private life, pretends to be all about world peace and uplifting the condition of the world's hapless minions. And yet, what kind of movies does she make? Empty-headed shoot-em-up bloodbaths that make light of violence and have nothing to say about anything, that's what. Wow, what a fraud.

And she's in good company where this "Russian" filmmaker is concerned. Anyone who knows a thing about Russian people knows how heartily they love to claim cultural superiority, to look down their noses at Hollywood movies as being devoid of emotional sensitivity or intellectual substance. And yet, if you read Scott's review you find that not only is Mr. Bekmambetov doing exactly that, he's not even being original about it. Check out this damning passage:
What does turn up looks familiar — the slowed bullets, the air that ripples like water, an underground group, here called the Fraternity — especially if you’ve seen “The Matrix.” Although Mr. Bekmambetov and his team take plenty of cues from that film, they have tried to distinguish their dystopian nightmare by borrowing from even farther afield. To that end the Fraternity practices its murderous skills on pig carcasses (much as Daniel Day-Lewis does in “Gangs of New York”) while bunkered in a sprawling factory (that looks like Hogwarts). I’m pretty sure I saw the fabulous recovery room — a concrete spa filled with sunken tubs and lighted candles where Fraternity members go for restorative soaks after a hard day of carnage — in a layout in Vogue.
So Bekmambetov is not only copying America at the superficial level, he's copying it right down to the roots, and not even doing it all that well. Scott says the movie boils down to "a grindingly repetitive rotation of bang-bang, boom-boom, knuckle sandwiches and exploding heads." His conclusion: "Things happen in Wanted, but no one cares. You could call that nihilism, but even nihilism requires commitment of a kind and this, by contrast, is a movie built on indifference."

To us, that sounds just like Russia itself, in microcosm. Things are happening (the population is shrinking, art is being stifled, journalism censored, politics castrated) but nobody cares. Instead of bringing a new sensibility to cinematic art when given its chance, Russia's contribution is to further deaden it, almost as if simply for the fun of it. Russia these days it seems has nothing to offer the world by cynicism and nihilism -- or in fact, perhaps they don't even have the energy and perseverance to raise themselves to that level.

Have a proud KGB spy as president? Why not! Start up the cold war by buzzing American with nuclear bombers and providing weapons to rogue leaders in Iran and Venezuela? Hell yeah, let's give it a go! We've already got the world's largest supply of territory? So there's nothing for it but to grab some more -- let's take the Arctic!

It's as if, some time ago, the whole nation resolve to launch itself upon a massive suicide pact, thumbing its nose at a world that somehow never managed to offer the recognition and worship it craved.

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