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GENERATION P (or, from Russia with cynicism) – Atlanta Film Fest 2012

The 36th Annual Atlanta Film Festival started tonight, and while I did not make it into the Opening Gala filmL!FE HAPPENS,  I did see one VERRRY interesting, weird, trippy, jaded and cynical piece of cinema called GENERATION P.

 It is a Russian film, and rather than go the traditional review route, since I honestly don’t know how I can without a second viewing (and maybe a third) I will instead just list my notes and thoughts as I took them in a darkened theatre. Thanks to Lisa, Heidi and others for the entertaining pre-show talk while waiting to get into the theatre…and for Dawayn for some feedback on my own theories after it was over.

That being said…here goes nothing –

Generation P – Russian, 2011, directed by Victor Ginzburg, based on Viktor Pelevin’s novel of the same name.

Strangely, you don’t often think, “Wow… that technical flub in the projection booth really gave me a different perspective on the film I just watched.” Well, I don’t anyway. However, its opening night of the festival and this theatre’s not even half full and these strange and beautiful golden Cyrillic writings start filling the screen. There’s not a sound except people fidgeting in their seats. It becomes obvious after a minute or two that the sound is off on this film but no one is sure if this is intentional or not.  It’s Russian…so you just never know, right? Someone from the Festival staff moseys out to the hall to walkie-talkie with someone to turning the sound on. We see the usual DVD menu pop-up on the screen (to the muffled groans of cineastes who like actual FILM at their film festivals…but that’s a complaint for another time) and hear the music come up.

And we hear the Russian. Not a Russian person…the language. Nothing but Russian from ear-to-ear. Yep. No subtitles. Finally (after some more fussing) the magic DVD menu comes up again from the booth and English-ON happens. Then they have to re-start the DVD since like its 4 minutes in at this point. I don’t complain…it is opening night, everything’s hectic, lots of well meaning and helpful volunteers are around…and I’m here to see what this enigmatic film is all about, so I let it slide, mentally. Afterwards, thinking about it, what I thought I was seeing without any idea what the voiceover narration was telling me, was a very different beginning to a very different film. Considering there are some themes about manipulation of mass media to tell people what to think…I almost wonder if it was purposeful.

The film begins with a light-saturated King Neptune being carried to shore in a small lifeboat as the Baltic sea sparkles in choppy majesty (making J.J. Abrams jealous of all the lens flares!) as the young sailors accompany the sea god Neptune from the boat (complete with 4-foot fake white beard) ashore to an “Ideal Pioneer Camp” as the song he’s singing goes.

We see shots in montage of young Soviets frolicking in swimsuits en mass at the camp (or others like it) and a voiceover by Babylen Tatarsky discussing the life he and so many other young Soviets lived at the end of the 1980’s. Babylen (named after Babylon and Lenin?) says that he was from a generation of people who didn’t look to the future, instead living a life of leisure and are totally unprepared with the collapse of the Soviet Union to do very much.

He ends up working in a kiosk, which is sort of like a walk-up crappy convenience store, where to pass his time he mostly ruminates on philosophy and figures out by looking at type of hands that come the money pass-through just how much he can short change them. The ham-handed man with small prison tattoos gets the right change, the soft hands of the ad exec gets taken for a ride. In an amusing bit, a man comes looking for condoms, and not the cheap stuff.  Tatarsky gives him “Durex…British brand…the Jaguar of condoms”.

To paraphrase a later line in the film; “The really poor always know the most about expensive name brands”.

I think this is the same in America as well. The kiosk is owned by a Chechen gangster (in a subplot that probably meant more, stereotype-wise in Russia than it does here, frankly) and when Babylen sees one of his old friends from ‘the good old days’ he promptly quits the kiosk and throws the keys under the door for the owner.  His friend, Morkova, convinces him to become a copywriter since there’s very few production houses (read: ad firms) in the new, Soviet-less Russia…and they want to get in on the act. So the literature and philosophy major (you get the feeling he never finished University because the Union broke apart) ends up becoming a copywriter.

One of my favorite bits has Morkova ranting in front of a power point projection of crude drawings of a Vietnamese sweatshop where American POW’s who were never released are making NIKE sneakers while… “demanding to see the American Consulate” and the logo of JUST DO IT washes over them.

HO-LE- SHIT… did I just see that?

A: Imagine if that commercial ever really WAS made? John McCain would have to go back all Chuck Norris-style and put his crotchety old man boot up someone’s ass for that one.

B: Who thinks this stuff up? Viktor Pelevin, that’s who.

I might believe that he’s Chuck Palahniuk’s even more depraved alter-ego. If I didn’t know how depraved some of Chuck’s character’s already are…and that man…it’s true, those Russians are some depressive and jaded people. Time passes, and young Babylen gets new glasses, better clothes and thank Jeebus, a haircut. His mega-mullet is better than just about anything this side of NEW KIDS TURBO. Don’t know it? Look it up here.It’s fantastic and offensive as hell. And you’ll hear the See You Next Tuesday word more often then you knew was even possible to say.

I digress… back to the weird little Russian movie.

This film is a little bit Matrix; by way of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, an early 90’s  version of Mad Men, some Being John Malkovitch, Fight Club, Thank You For Smokingand a little bit of  both Eyes Wide Shut and the Lord of the Ringsfilms thrown in for good measure.

I know you’re all like W -T -F, yo.

How is that even POSSIBLE?

Well, those Russians have a way with some deep satire and politricks and keeping up with the Joneses, technology-wise. It’s almost a bit Network, too, come to think of it.

Tatarsky, while not obsessed, per se, is really into Babylonian mythos, and especially the goddess Ishtar. On an acid trip he sees the Tower of Babel, the ziggurat (a word I have always really liked, incidentally) and gets freaked out. He calls his friend to try and calm down, who advised him to drink lots of vodka and to do a particular chant. In his vision he’s handed a small pickle. When he wakes up, he is in fact holding a pickle. Much later when he speaks to that friend again, asking what was in the chant he did… the answer is that its’ from ancient Hebrew and means “God, give me a pickle” with an OMMMM added on for good measure. He later buys a strange Ouija board where you place a sheet of paper in the center and put a pen into a wooden holder and ask a spirit for advice. It’s such a specific and weird thing, I can only guess it was made for the film, since Google images search turned up nothing like it.

The first time using it, he asks for advice from Che Guevara and later Dostoevsky. It turns out he’s stumbled into an ad agency that writes copy for, and creates CGI/Virtual copies of positions and makes them run the government of Russia. Another good line is:

“Every politician is a TV show.”

–and how true that is. Just ask any American politicos who made a gaffe that played on television or the internet for the next two weeks.

In a move to fire one of the staffers who had the wrong brand of cigs (violating the agreement the ad men have with Camel™) in the hands of a certain CGI-General, the security thugs put him in a giant (5-foott wide) green plastic ball and rolls him down the aisle all Violet Beauregard style.

Oh, did I forget to mention the Alice in Wonderland aspect to this film…? That the more our man asks  about who’s running the show, the more he gets stonewalled. With Morkova even going so far as to show him the GIANT safety pin he keeps to stab his own hand when he even starts thinking about these sorts of questions. It’s also got a very Gilliam-vibe to it in its surreal and Big Brother aspects.  I think he’d like it. And if it would not even further push back the will-it-ever-get-made Don Quixote project, I’d almost want him to helm the American remake of this. Justin Timberlake as Babylen, of course.

It’s like he works for the Paper Street Ad Agency, complete with electronica score in points in the film and in a deeply cynical move in this satire of a film, the entire “Government” gets erased thanks to a computer virus planted by the man rolled off in the green ball and later killed in a staged Chechen suicide bombing using Babylen’s own car. Tatarsky decides to create a brand new politician, not just CGI renderings of real folks, but one that they can completely control on their own. He bases his personality on the company chauffer and they name him Smirnoff (a good Russian surname) and even do a marketing campaign around the vodka for a few months prior to any election stuff, so that the name will be in people’s minds.  They make CGI- Smirnoff a Communist who is against liberals and democracy and for THE PEOPLE.

It’s just about ‘now’ at the films’ end…and Babylen has gone through myriad wardrobe-style changes, glasses and hairstyles to show this, though there are a few anachronisms. Smirnoff being pro-Communist is funny; since this was the generation who both was raised on and later rejected Communism outright.

Our hero passes several giant rounded M logos(and we all know what company that is, don’t we?) and even gets anointed with dog’s blood near the end in the same pattern on his forehead, thus finally becoming the ritual husband-god to Ishtar of Babylon.

I think that not only would Terry Gilliam like this film and its truly weird acid and mushroom trips, (the second one I cannot even begin to describe —  I’m nearly at 18,000 words now) the unseen but not unfelt Oligarchs, but I also think Neal Stephenson would as well.

He wrote both SNOW CRASH, and CRYPTONOMICON, two seminal works of American cyberpunk/sci-fi of the last twenty years or so. He’s got a bit of a Babylonian-fetish that carries over into his works, after all. This would be right up his alley.

Well look here — did I  sort of, kind of… have I maybe reviewed this film?

No, I don’t really think so. I’ve spent nearly 2,000 words trying to explain it to you and failing. Maybe you should just look for this whenever/wherever you can find it playing. It’s worth a visit or two.

Oh…by the way, the name of the film, GENERATION P, stands for the Pepsi Generation – because all those young Soviet citizens—  they all wanted to be free like in the Western commercials touting sugary escapes from your daily grind. Except they didn’t know that those same sugary things are killing us by the thousands, both literally and with caramel-colored metaphors about American superiority over your generic peoples, sodas and ideologies. Or maybe they did. Those Russians are the masters of a jaded philsophy after all.Listen to the speech at the end about a Babylonian gods, Pizdyets –

“One of the Gods was the lame dog Pizdyets, whose name means “everything is fucked”.  Legend says he sleeps in the snows up north, and when he awakes, that’s the end – Pizdyets…

Sounds a bit like the Pepsi Generation all right. I’m not going to use terms like “A film for the 99%”  here… this is an interesting satire on manipulation, not from the government (like you expect in so many films or shows like The X-Files) … but from the very people who tell you what you think about what you wear, drink, drive and who you screw.

This is a challenging film on many fronts but it is satisfying somewhat to think that maybe, if this is the least bit true (in the way that Fight Club is a little bit true)  –  then I know a little bit more about how the world really does run than you do.  And that’s enough for me.

Generation P trailer (for English click the CC at bottom)

~H. Blain is a freelance writer living in Atlanta who likes reading far too late in the night, most types of comic books, all things cinema (including being excited by certain names in the credits that you usually ignore) and saw The Empire Strikes Back three times opening day  when she was ten years old. You can find her on the tweety @MediaTsarina ~

 Ed note: all extra links and photos were used to show satire, and are in no way connected with GENERATION P, the Atlanta Film Festival or Live For Films.


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