English Title: Brother

Original Title: Brat

Country of Origin: Russia

Studio: CTB

Director: Aleksei Balabanov

Producer(s): Sergei Selianov

Screenplay: Aleksei Balabanov

Cinematographer: Sergei Astakhov

Art Director: Vladimir Kartashov

Editor: Marina Lipartiia

Runtime: 96 minutes

Genre: Crime, Action

Language: Russian, English, French

Starring/Cast: Sergei Bodrov Jr, Viktor Sukhorukov, Svetlana Pismichenko, Mariia Zhukova, Iurii Kuznetsov, Viacheslav Butusov, Irina Rakshina

Year: 1997

Volume: Russian

Brother introduces a young man, Danila, who has just finished his military service in southern Russia. His mother sends him to St Petersburg to live with his older brother, Viktor, who, viewers soon discover, is a hit man. Without any hesitation or scruples, Viktor involves Danila in the criminal world, causing him to risk his life. Danila, however, having just returned from war, cannot be easily trapped in Viktor’s plan and effectively deals with his assassins. After discovering that his brother has set him up, Danila spares Viktor’s life, gives him some money and sends him to live with their mother before himself leaving for Moscow.

Brother created a new type of hero in post-Soviet film: the hit man who follows his own moral standards in deciding whom to kill and whom to spare. He protects the poor and delivers justice, yet upholds no coherent moral principles and kills callously. Viewers of Brother know nothing of Danila’s past with certainty. He claims to have served at ‘the Headquarters’, but his skills in assembling hand-made guns make one question the accuracy of this information. One may argue that Danila seeks guidance and is even concerned with existential and philosophical questions. In Brother, the story takes place almost entirely in St Petersburg and only once shows Danila’s hometown in the provinces. St Petersburg is marked in the Russian imagination as the Russian ‘window to the West’. Embarking on the crucial process of westernization of Russian culture, history and identity, in 1703 Peter the Great built the city with western architectural style and ambience. In this city, the window to the West, Danila meets Kat, who hangs out at McDonald’s and takes him to a party with foreigners.

On his first day in the city, Danila befriends an ethnic German, Hoffmann, living in Russia. Here Danila also encounters Hoffmann’s friends at a Lutheran cemetery, a reminder of the other in the Russian predominantly Orthodox tradition; here his brother has acquired the nickname ‘the Tartar’. Contrary to such exposure to otherness, Danila declares that he is ‘not wild about Jews’, refuses to have anything in common with Southerners and despises Americans and the French, recognizing no difference between the two. Unlike the somewhat enigmatic characterization of the male protagonist, the female characters bear uniformly negative portrayals: Danila and Viktor’s mother still lives in the past, unaware of her sons’ real lives; Sveta, one of Danila’s girlfriend, opts to remain in an abusive relationship; Kat, another girlfriend, is a junkie, who hangs out at McDonald’s. Balabanov somewhat deviates from the rules of the action genre, and, through periodic fade-to-black, he punctuates the pace of the action and creates a unique rhythm. This technique ruptures the plot and relates to the unstructured and inconsistent character of the main protagonist. The director often uses the black screen to imply brutal violence or gratuitous sexuality without actually showing it.  With the fade-to-black technique and quick cutting from one scene to another, Balabanov avoids the onscreen representation of cruelty.

Author of this review: Yana Hashamova