Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Another One of Those Great Films You Have Never Heard Of: "Bullet Collector" (2012)

It is hard to believe that this mixture of "Pixote" and "The 400 Blows" is Alexander Vartanov's first film.

Ruslan Nazarenko is an unnamed fourteen year old boy living a bleak existence in Russia. His life is full of fantasy, as he tells stories of his real father and that man's connection to a cult who are constantly at war in the shadows of normal existence. The boy has a girlfriend who falls for his stories, and he also has it rough at school, getting bullied and learning that he can also bully smaller children.

The first half of the film is a hallucinatory look at the boy's life in the city. It is dark and depressing; both the film and his life. He exists on the fringe, and uses what he sees and hears to fuel his hallucinatory visions of what he would do to harm others. Literally half way through the film, things take an even darker turn as the boy is sent to a juvenile prison camp after a bloody street fight. There, he makes a couple of friends, and plans an escape from the compound.

While the plot is threadbare for a two hour plus film, the screen is filled with images that will set your mind reeling. The black and white photography recalls 1960's French New Wave, as it was meant to, and Vartanov fills every corner with doom and gloom. Even hopeful scenes like the ones with the boy's girlfriend are dank and sad. The brilliance of the film is that it is never boring, and while this boy's existence is awful, Vartanov doesn't feel the need to push the viewer's face into the muck, as Larry Clark did in "Kids". He presents the story, the visuals, and steps away.

The film is amazingly edited. It had to take forever to collect the shots in this kind of order. The script must be as nightmarish to read as it is to watch, as hallucinations, dreams, fantasies, and jarring violence are witnessed through the eyes of both this anti-heroic child, and our own senses. You won't like this kid much, but seeing his existence will prompt many a discussion after watching the film about the entire nature/nurture debate- the boy's home life with his unloving mother and jerk stepfather are as bad as anything he goes through at school.

It's difficult to "like" a film like this, to sing its praises and recommend it to people. "Bullet Collector" is the most depressing film I have seen since "Pixote," features a central performance on par with that Brazilian classic, and is directed by a new master with a camera.

It is a shame this did not receive as much attention as it should. I can only recommend that you seek it out, love it or hate it, you won't soon forget it. (* * * * *) out of five stars.