Of Freaks And Men will be the film that brings Alexei Balabanov to an international audience; but it was its predecessor, Brother, that topped Russia’s box-office charts in 1997.
A bleak portrait of likeable Danila’s (Bodrov) slide into blank-faced crime and killing, it shouted out loud to Russia’s disaffected youth and set Balabanov’s fellow directors’ teeth on edge with its jumpy style and xenophobic leanings. But this isn’t the moral desert its critics maintain. Danila does bad deeds with a good heart, keeps his promises and is seduced by gun power as it gets him out of a dead-end existence.
Balabanov’s Leningrad is full of alcoholics, down-and-outs, decaying apartment blocks and rain-drenched urban wastelands. It’s a place where brother turns on brother and friendship can be bought with a bottle of vodka. What’s really disturbing, however, is that Danila can emerge from this as such a positive and sweetly innocent hero.