Monday, August 01, 2016

Fantasia ’16: Pyotr495 (short)

Welcome to Russia, semi-permanent home of the China-Putin-Zika Games, formerly known as the Olympics. Vladimir Putin hopes you enjoy your stay, unless you happen to be gay. In that case, you’d best not come, unless you want to risk life and limb. Having prohibited LGBT “propaganda” and given license to his brutish supporters to bash away, Putin has deliberately fostered a climate of fear and intimidation. However, the uncertainty of blind hook-ups cuts both ways in Blake Mawson’s short film Pyotr495 (trailer here), which screened during the 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Pyotr is usually careful, but he still wants to live some semblance of a life. After exchanging a series of texts with the muscular Sergei, he agrees to meet the stranger in his Moscow apartment. It turns out Pyotr should have done more due diligence on Sergei—and he really should not have admitted nobody knew he was there. Unfortunately, Sergei and his gay-bashing friends have their own humiliating plans for Pyotr. However, there is more to their intended victim than they realize. After all, it wasn’t programmed at Fantasia for nothing.

Pyotr495 is an extraordinarily dark and tense short that portrays Putin’s Russia as a horror film in the style of the Hostel franchise, until it takes a satisfying EC Comics turn. Alex Ozerov was rather underwhelming in the generally problematic Natasha, but he redeems himself as Pyotr. As his tormentors, Max Rositsan and Juliana Semenova truly personify the dark side of human nature. Technically, Putin never appears in Pyotr495, but he still deserves credit for making it frighteningly believable.

This is the sort of short that can transcend resistance to its format and generate some far-ranging discussions. Of course, it is not just LGBT Russians who are at risk from the Putin regime. The film duly notes in its opening titles, the Russia military has invaded the sovereign territory of Ukraine. Tightly executed and all too timely, Pyotr495 was easily one of the best shorts at this year’s Fantasia.