- English subtitles
Aleksey Balabanov described Me Too as his most personal film. Despite the freezing route of this rough road trip from Saint Petersburg to Uglich – interspersed with the dark anecdotes of the bandits’ squadron leader Sanya and his icy comrades – it is hard not to warm to the religious and apocalyptic statements of the director, who passed away in 2013. Could Me Too be a solid beacon in the new wave of sincerity in Russia’s current cultural landscape?
Nikita Kartsev: ‘Does your appearance give this film the form of a personal statement?’
Aleksey Balabanov: ‘I wanted everything to be real, that people would believe.’
Me too shamelessly flirts with the transcendental and with Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979), especially when it comes to existential issues and the use of fantastic realism. Balabanov’s latest suggests a certain eternal and universal quality, and seems to deviate significantly from his other ironic and postmodern pictures
A characteristic Balabanov start of the film: protagonist Sanya, a.k.a. Bandit (Aleksandr Mosin) shoots down some opponents. Aleksandr Simonov’s pivoting cinematography reminds one of a shoot ‘m up game – we’re most definitely doomed! The plot then moves to a different framework. Bandit reappears in a banya (sauna). He tells his friend (musician Oleg Garkusha) a story about ‘the belfry of happiness (kolokol’nia schast’ia)’ at a mysterious location that is something like Tarkovsky’s ‘Zone’, where people transform and disappear. The tower is situated in an area that has been subjected to a permanent nuclear winter due to an unobserved electromagnetic radiation, where most of the inhabitants die.
However, there’s more to the tower than meets the eye. It’s a transporter: free transportation to happiness for the chosen ones. Sanya decides to lead his chosen ones to this place of no return. On the passenger list: his acquaintance the musician, another friend taken from a sanatorium in non too peaceful manner, Matvei (Iurii Matveev), Matvei’s elderly father (Viktor Gorbunov), a prostitute/former philosophy student picked up along the way (Alisa Shitikova) and a young TV-prophet (played by Balabanov’s son, Petr) who knows everything about this tower of happiness.
Balabanov emphasised the new quality of his film and claimed a completely new genre with Me Too. At its première/opening night on the 69th Venice Film Festival, he categorised his film under ‘fantastic realism’. Exceptional about this style is not only the realism and the fantastical, but especially the documentary-like quality. All roles in the film are played by non-professional actors. (Balabanov used non-professional actors in previous movies, like part of the cast of Stoker, 2010.) In Me Too, this approach manifests a new level: the roles of the actors are similar to their real-life activities, everyone plays himself and even the smallest anecdotes are probably derived from true events. Cinematographer Simonov also stated that most of the filming was done in the style of a documentary. However, there are still some beautiful editing matches, like the analogy of the vertical pan on the drugstore with that on the belfry. Pill-pushing or bell-ringing for happiness, whichever you put your faith in.
At least you can put your faith in the fantastic Me Too, where everything seems austerely real!