Khrustalyov, My Car! Maddening miscellany of Russian horrors

Aleksei German’s 1998 film set in last days of Stalin reflects director’s grim view of humanity

Yuri Tsourilo as Yuri Glinshi in Aleksei German’s 1998 film ‘Khrustalyov, My Car!’

Film Title: Khrustalyov, My Car

Director: Aleksei German

Starring: Yuriy Tsurilo

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 150 min

Fri, Dec 21, 2018, 05:00

   

A prologue to Aleksei German’s damned near impenetrable 1998 film includes a detailed scroll on the anti-Semitic Doctors’ Plot. This maddening, intriguing, obtuse film has about as much to do with that historical episode as Hard to be a God (German’s last work) – an ugly fantasia in which an astronaut struggles on a backwards and feudal planet – has to do with space travel. Seven years in the making, and ostensibly set in 1953, during the last days of Joseph Stalin, if you work hard and squint harder Khrustalyov, My Car! has a narrative of sorts.

Yuri Glinshi (Yuri Tsourilo) is an alcoholic brain surgeon and former Red Army general who is sent, for a spell, to the gulag. The journey east is a Boschean nightmare, in which he is assaulted anally with the handle of a shovel, but only marginally more grotesque than everything else in the film.

Shot in stark, high-contrast monochrome, a ceaseless, roving camera, Altmanesque overlapping dialogue and entirely random incidents make for chaotic viewing.

Turi’s rounds at the hospital are characterised by yelling, the constant tooting of a horn, swivel-eyed loons, and both staff and maggotty patients running around in circles. At his cluttered, hysterical home – every room is a pile up of chandeliers and busts of Stalin – his family fight furiously with one another. Mischievous girls attack their masturbating brother with glue.

“Why do you hate me so much?” cries their mother. “Because you’re vile”, comes the retort that prompts the mother to stub her cigarette out on her daughter. There’s no respite at the pub, where a man pleads: “Guys, come and piss on my dog; my whore of a daughter-in-law scalded the dog”. There’s no respite with his mistresses, who are as loud and aggressive as everyone else.

People come and go without introduction or elucidation. All of them are in keeping with the Soviet auteur’s grim view of humanity. Yuri himself cuts an absurd figure: with his strongman moustache and cartoonishly broad shoulders, from behind he looks like a triangle with a bald head. As he moves through the madness, a lack of either political or geographical context and the fragmented dizzying narrative add to an escalating sense of unease.

Fans of the extensive cinema of Lucrecia Martel’s Zama are certain to rejoice in the horrors.