Avoid cops, hookers and horny Gypsies! Country drive turns death trap in a dark fable of Russian history
I’m startled to report that one of the darkest Russian films I’ve seen in a career of watching dark Russian films, Sergei Loznitsa’s black-comic backwoods odyssey “My Joy,” will actually play American theaters (no doubt briefly) before moving on to a somewhat longer life as a home-video cult object. This mordant, slow-motion horror film about a truck driver’s journey into hell — the title is 100 percent sardonic, maybe more so — was the most unexpected and arresting picture in the 2010 Cannes competition. Despite what you might believe about that festival, audiences there generally flock to lighter fare, and few seemed to appreciate that “My Joy” had a bleak, grotesque, near-perfect poetry in its soul.
We never learn much about Georgy (Viktor Nemets), who picks up a load of flour one morning in an unnamed city and sets off into the vast Russian interior. He seems a decent enough guy, actually — he leaves some money and a note for his wife, and picks up a teenage hooker largely to get her off the road (which she bitterly resents). Whether Georgy is a good guy or a bad guy, he couldn’t possibly deserve what’s coming. From the moment he stops at a checkpoint run by a pair of lecherous, sadistic, beyond-corrupt cops, he seems to have wandered into an episode of “The Twilight Zone” authored by Gogol. Loznitsa’s portrait of Russian existence is one of perpetual gloom punctuated with occasional outbursts of violence, and after Georgy leaves the highway for a “shortcut” — hey, the mean teenage hooker warned him it was haunted! — you will never labor under the delusion that we’re headed for a happy ending. Loznitsa is an acclaimed documentary filmmaker (this is his first narrative feature) who left Russia in 2001, and he clearly has a social and historical agenda of sorts. “My Joy” appears to suggest that all the tyranny and brutality of the 20th century have left Russia, in the era of Putin and the plutocrats, stupefied and morally denuded.
Still, there’s something larger than despair beneath the impressively somber landscapes of “My Joy.” (The film was shot by Oleg Mutu, the Romanian cinematographer of “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” and “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.”) Loznitsa can’t resist the fatalistic, seriocomic storytelling tradition that’s such a big part of Russian life: When an aged passenger tells Georgy a tale of his fateful encounter with a fellow Soviet officer on the way home from World War II, we travel back to 1946 and witness the whole thing. Later, more mysteriously, we see another terrible incident, probably from World War I, which happened in the house where Georgy ends up living with a Gypsy woman who seems to have claimed him as her sex toy.
That’s the closest thing to tenderness Georgy finds in this land of endless stupidity and evil, where any human impulses seem to have been overrun by the most ruthless and Darwinian kind of struggle. He is beaten and left for dead; his truck and cargo are sold off. At last, the old man who told him the World War II story becomes his final refuge. And he hasn’t seen the last of those terrible cops. Believe me, Russian readers, I don’t assume that this dark fantasy bears much relationship to Russian reality — or at least, no more than “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” depicts real life in 1970s central Texas. Like all horror movies, this is a grossly exaggerated fable, one that arrives by way of its impressive cinematography and interpolated tales at a startling, violent, tragic and inevitable conclusion.
“My Joy” is now playing at the Cinema Village in New York and the Art House Cinema 502 in Ogden, Utah. It also opens Nov. 4 in Spokane, Wash., with more cities and dates to be announced. Home video release will follow.
More Related Stories
- Josh Ritter makes his "Blood on the Tracks"
- I don't hate millennials anymore!
- What's 2013's "Gone Girl"? Here are this summer's best reads
- Fox executive behind "Does Someone Have to Go?" leaving the network
- Hillary Clinton memoir shows up on Amazon
- A brief history of Jennifer Weiner's literary fights
- First look: Joaquin Phoenix, Marion Cotillard shine in "The Immigrant”
- No women allowed: Summer music festivals are dudefests, again
- Vivica A. Fox tapes anti-gun PSA in front of poster for her movie
- This is what Guy Fieri looks like as a balloon
- Mariah Carey's rambling, cursing, dress-popping "Good Morning America" concert
- Fox's new reality TV show threatens regular people with unemployment
- Amanda Bynes arrested after hurling bong from window
- Steamy lesbian-sex movie has Cannes abuzz
- Stop what you're doing and go watch "Borgen"
- Teenage girl claims she was beaten up for looking like Taylor Swift
- Mike Judge: "Bowling for Columbine" made me pro-gun
- New York chef serves up eight-course meal around "Arrested Development" jokes
- HLN: Jodi Arias "pleading for her life" got us a ratings win!
- Michael Ian Black on Maron feud: He "considered me a poseur"
- Chekhov's story mirrors Russia's own
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11