Mansfield Fox

Law student. Yankees fan. Massive fraggle. Just living the American dream.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Not Your Usual Russian Vampire Movie

I caught Night Watch (Nochnoi Dozor to our Russian-speaking friends) this afternoon.

Thumbnail review: A much better, Russian version of Underworld (which was itself not without its charms). I enjoyed it, and will try to see the sequels when they're released.

Despite liking it more than he, I'm inclined to agree with many of Roger "Big Poppa" Ebert's criticisms. The central conceit of the plot (the "truce" between the Light Others and the Dark Others) is pretty silly, and pulls off the neat trick of being both blah-simple and totally confusing at the same time. And he's absolutely right that during the climax almost all sense of continuity and time gets thrown to the wind.

I think, however, that those are problems that don't detract too much from one's overall enjoyment of the film, which has so many other cool things going for it. Like the subtitles. I think the movie's almost worth seeing just for the fun the filmmakers have with subtitles. I don't want to spoil anything, but suffice it to say, at times the subtitles bleed.

< pontificating cap on > I think I noticed in the movie two subtexts that speak to the present situation in the real Russia, which (if they're really there and not just imagined) make the movie more than just your standard Slavic vampire flick. One is the theme of class. The Dark Others seemed to be associated with success and Westenization. They wear Addidas jumpsuits, moonlight as pop stars, play English-language video games. The Light Others, in contrast, seem much shabbier and poorer. They live in small apartments, wear hand-me-down clothes. They drive around in a power company maintenance vehicle and complain about how out-of-date their equipment is. I'm not entirely sure what (if anything) this is supposed to stand for. Is it Oligarchs versus ordinary Russians? Those who want to orient Russia with the West versus those who want to return it to it's unique roots (the old Westernizers versus Slavophiles debate)?

The other subtext is abortion. Again, without revealing too much, let it suffice to say that an (attempted, supernatural) abortion plays a prominent role in the plot, and the killing of an unborn child (or even the desire to do so) is treated in the film as a very grave evil (indeed, it's arguably treated as a more grave evil than killing a post-birth human). This would be a powerful theme in an American movie; I can only guess at its significance in a movie from the country with arguably the world's highest abortion rate (two abortions for every live birth). < / pontificating cap off >

In an effort to not end the review on such a down note, I thought I'd mention another neat thing about Night Watch: it allowed me some glimpse of what it must be like to be a movie-goer in a non-English-speaking market, and of why they seem to go ga-ga for all the epic, explosion-laden dreck that Hollywood churns out. Was the acting in Night Watch wooden? Who knows? Who cares? It's in Russian! Even if it was Olivier, I wouldn't have understood it any better. Just keep the whiz-bangery and ass-kickery coming, and give me enough subtitles to keep everything not too confusing, and I'll be happy.