Here is an entertaining film with a most unusual pedigree. “Moscow Never Sleeps,” a perceptive blending of stories about interesting Russian characters by Irish writer-director Johnny O’Reilly, is a Russian-Irish co-production. Yes, all looks thoroughly Russian, but the approach of an outsider who has spent 12 years living in that country adds a special perspective.
At the outset, the credits give the film a flair. Unless I am mistaken, as the cast members were listed, I detected their names in Russian also attached to buildings in the background. As the story unfolds, the various character threads are meshed, a bit confusing at first, but gradually effective as we become involved with the people, the issues, and the overall picture of life in Moscow as O’Reilly sees it.
Ever in the background is Moscow itself, a city of 15 million people. O’Reilly, director of photography Fedor Lyass and production designer Ekaterina Zaletaeva capture the look from everyday locations to an overview, with the film set primarily on a Moscow City Celebration Day. Themes run through the film— abusive political power, family problems, the more caring versus the selfish, anti-social behavior, personal relationships, and life and death.
An excellent Russian cast makes the assorted characters come vividly alive as the multiple stories evolve. Of special interest, for example, is the portrait of Anton, played by Alexey Serebryakov, who is involved in a real estate development deal and is being screwed by the powerful among Moscow’s corrupt business elite, but refuses to knuckle under even though it results in his need to flee to New York to avoid arrest. This means leaving the close relationship with his young son, who lives with Anton’s former wife. Anton has a mistress, Katya (Evgenia Brik), a young singer whose career he is promoting and is asked to come to America with him. She has broken off with a former boyfriend, Ilya (Oleg Dolin), in hope of the better material life Anton can give her. Ilya is desperately stalking her and fights against his abandonment.
In another situation, one feels for Vera, touchingly played by Tamara Siricheva, whose eyes rather than words signify her feelings. She is a fading, elderly grandmother being shipped off to a home by her son, more to be rid of her than for her well-being. But in a prime example of caring, her grandson Stepan (Sergei Belov), resents what is happening and takes matters into his own hands.
There is not much humor to be found in the film. What exists occurs in getting-even reprisals. Yet one of the most colorful characters is Valery, a comedian well-known for his television shows, colorfully portrayed byYuri Stoyanov. Valery, fatally ill and not given much time to live, escapes from a hospital to find time alone and enjoy alcohol forbidden him, only to be kidnapped by young hooligans who want to show off being with a celebrity and and take souvenir photographs.
After he breaks free, Valery decides to introduce his long-standing mistress to his wife—both have known of each other’s existence but have never met. The scene is set for the women to be at Valery’s bedside as he predictably exits.
You will follow other stories that are well-drawn and in some ways related. The acting is convincing and affecting, and by the time this portrait of life within the “Moscow That Never Sleeps” is over, you are left with a vision of lives and situations that, although very Russian, might parallel other lives and situations elsewhere, say in a New York that never sleeps, all filtered through the eyes of a man from Dublin. A Lambert Releasing release. Reviewed June 8, 2017.