Sunday, December 05, 2010

Russian Film Week ’10: Golden Mean

Evidently, Russia has not been immune to the influence of The Da Vinci Code. The good news is the Russian riff on Dan Brown’s ancient conspiracies and mysterious artifacts is considerably better than Ron Howard’s movies. Boasting the production values of major Hollywood tent-poles, Sergey Debizhev’s action and intrigue driven The Golden Mean (trailer here) screens tonight as part of the 2010 Russian Film Week in New York.

Despite Mean’s title and Da Vinci inspired graphics, Leonardo does not factor into this grand cabal. Somehow though, it involves our protagonist’s swashbuckling grandfather. A dissolute hedonist, Aleksandr has been a stranger to heroism all his life. However, the discovery of an old magazine photo of his grandfather breaking the bank at a Cambodian casino three years after his presumed disappearance in the war understandable intrigues the young reprobate.

As it turns out, granddad was not just a daring pilot and gambler. He held many secrets, including his true identity as a former aristocrat and White partisan during the 1917 revolution. Stealing away to his beloved France, the mysterious patriarch became involved with a powerful and shadowy secret society that seeks to re-establish global equilibrium by finding and restoring eight missing religious relics to their proper shrines. Acquiescing to the will of Monsieur Perot, the only slightly ominous leader of the more-or-less cult, the Russian playboy sets out to finish what his grandfather started, perhaps finding enlightenment in the process.

Though not recommended for epileptics, the visual approach of Debizhev and cinematographer Anton Drozdov throws in everything but the kitchen sink, employing jumps cuts, wipes and washes, and dozens of other stylized effects. Particularly cool are the flashback scenes of the grandfather shot in a style that deliberately evokes 1940’s black-and-white serials. While there is plenty of action, Debishev is clearly just as interested in the inner workings of his grand historical-metaphysical scheme. However, the final fifteen minutes or so make absolutely no sense whatsoever.

Resembling a young Rutger Hauer, Alexey Serebryakov is a convincing square-jawed anti-hero turned hero. Unfortunately, his primary love interest is a rather underwhelming personality and is not even that alluring by big budget movie standards. Yet, the film’s perception of Asian women (or at least that of its male characters) is even more problematic in a clichéd and dismissive way.

With its elements of Eastern spiritualism, Mean is ultimately far more appealing than Brown and Howard’s unrestrained Catholic bashing. Indeed, it displays an ecumenical respect for faith in general and an earnest desire to dazzle. The forthright depiction of Stalin’s thuggish political officers during World War II adds an intriguing dimension, as well. While it might crater at the end, nearly every genre film does. Executed with vigor, it is certainly a memorable film, but tonight (12/5) could well be New York audience’s only chance to Mean for the foreseeable future when it screens at the Millennium Theater in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn