Russian film has seen something of a renaissance in recent years, with a new breed of filmmakers such as Aleksei Balabanov (Brother), Andrei Zvyagintsev (The Return) and Aleksandr Sukurov (Russian Ark) winning over festival audiences, wowing the critics and packing them in at the art houses. Now Pyotr Khazizov, founder and head of Cinemateka, one of Russia's top special-effects and post-production houses (with titles such as recent local blockbuster Turkish Gambit to its name), makes his bid to join their ranks.
Set in a cool, ultra-modern Moscow of minimalist apartments, cheap brothels, post-industrial wasteland and designer nightclubs, Manga follows three characters whose reality bending encounters initially baffle but gradually cohere. Delinquent teenager Kiwi (Yaroslav Zhalnin) hotwires cars with his mate, magically disappears at will and obsesses over model Alisa (Vasilisa Petina). First seen on an advertising hoarding, she soon appears in the flesh, collapsing into the car of affluent Alik (Khazizov himself – he also wrote the screenplay with costume designer Anastasia Kryuchkova and co-produced the film), who is struggling with an identity crisis and apparently programming animé on his computer which may or may not detail the adventures of Kiwi.
As might be expected from an effects whiz who cut his teeth in advertising, the film is perhaps stronger on style than storytelling. Some will doubtless find the disjointed narrative frustrating, but the attractive young cast sweeten the pill and the mash up of visual styles holds the attention. Whilst Khazizov may have to work a little harder on the prosaic virtues of characterization and narrative pacing if he is to achieve the kind of acclaim enjoyed by Balabanov, Zvyagintsev and Sukurov et al., Manga announces him as filmmaker of flair and imagination. EB