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Kino Korner October 28, 2003
A Flathead Odyssey
By Mark Ames Browse author Email


This new movie, already out on DVD, is called "Boomer" in Russian but translated as "Bimmer" in English, although I thought that the diminutive for BMW was "Beemer." Since I'm a metro rider myself, I'll have to trust you car-worshipping pedants out there. I'm reviewing this movie because the English-language offerings this bi-week are either shit or unavailable. Or, in the case of next week's Matrix release, unavailable shit.

Bimmer is one of the finest post-Soviet B-movies that I've seen, better even than, say, the Brat/Brat-2 films, which were choice B-movies in their own right with the added bonus that if you had a dumb girlfriend over at your house and you wanted to be left alone, you could always pop in Brat 2 and that would shut them up for awhile.

But Bimmer is better. For one thing, Bimmer shows more Russia than any of those films. Brat-2 appealed to the complexes and patriotic prejudices that were reappearing after nearly a decade of too much shame for Russians. That made the film a hit and fun to watch, but not really a window into much more than that.

Bimmer presents Russia in all of its glorious nihilism, from the nihilism of the gangsters, militiamen and the random proles, all those left behind in the great economic miracle... to the nihilism of the ever-decaying-but-never-decayed infrastructure, and finally the nihilism of the nature, the tired light, the snow and the repetitive landscapes. Most of the film is shot without floodlights, capturing Russia's naturally dim winter light, like a perpetual dusk and dawn, especially outside of Moscow. In between dramatic scenes, we are shown a car-window's view of the repetition of field and birch forests, of abandoned structures and shitty roadside stops, always hinting at all the menace, violence and sex that an outsider would never suspect. It is a place that's perpetually uncomfortable yet fecund. Watching Bimmer, I thought to myself that if or when I ever leave Russia, this is one movie I'll want to take with me. In fact watching it, I began to miss Russia in-advance, knowing that I will one day watch Bimmer and think, "I once had a life."

Bimmer is about a group of four petty flatheads who steal Western cars, including the ill-fated BMW, and thanks to the goofy-tough-guy antics of the weakest of the group, they wind up in a razborka with the wrong gangsters. In a restaurant showdown, our heroes cross the line and blast the gangstery, starting a war that they have no chance of winning. So they flee on an Odyssey-like journey through the cruel and poor provinces of Russia.

From here it becomes a kind of cross between Survivor, The Running Man and Mad Max. Grotesquely corrupt cops, played brilliantly (and all too familiar), take our heroes' money, forcing them to literally pawn their goods just to get a tank of gas. When they have enough money to buy themselves a lunch at a roadside stolovaya, you can just taste how good that borsht and sliced black bread is because you've been there before -- and you've seen these same guys, these flatheads, hunched over their soup like convicts, spoon in one hand and half-slice of bread in the other. They have to fight their way through every horrible situation imaginable, a world of incredible violence and cynicism, and yet it's presented rightly without sensationalism.

You can tell the movie struck a nerve because reactions to it from Russian viewers have been sharply divided between those who praise its realism to those who attack it for presenting realism as nothing but shit. The movie is fearless in its refusal to pander to the Putin-era desire to show Russia as "just a normal European country," the way crap love-triangle films like Progulka did.

Besides, the movie has a genuine humanism to it that you rarely find in any movie. It's a movie about friendship, loyalty and betrayal, concepts which mean so much more in such brutal conditions. A village babushka, a hardened woman who tends to the wounded flathead without a hint of sentimentality, and the babe village girl who sleeps with the tallest, handsomest flathead -- if that isn't cinema verite (there really are babes in every village, and they really will bone some smelly flathead who rolls through town, god bless them), then I don't know what is!

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