Cargo 200: This is the kind of movie the Cohen Bros probably think they make, but don’t. Set in the decaying Soviet Union of 1984, it’s a bleak, perverse, morbid thriller cut with some very bitter and black humor. It wallows in the Soviet man’s mire, both on the individual and state level.
The difference between Cargo 200 and the trash the Coen Bros deface the screen with is honesty. The Coen Bros create comic book characters, place them in conflicts beyond their abilities, and then sneer at them. The characters in Cargo 200 are among the ugliest and most deranged (and, in one case, intellectually fraudulent) you will see this side of a torture porn flick. The script tosses the characters together by accident, bad luck and a desire for liquor, which then provokes orgies of drunkeness, violence and bizarre *romance.* But the filmmakers retain a humane objectivity in regard to their characters that is lacking in the Coens. The characters in Cargo 200 may be garbage. . .but they are human garbage:
Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth He yet find fault? For who hath resisted His will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it, Why hast Thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?
These characters (whether one views them as symbolic of all depraved mankind, or, as the filmmakers do, as products of the corrupt Soviet state) are what they are. They can be nothing else. To mock them, as the Coens would do, would be as dishonest as mocking a retarded person.
I’ll not reveal plot details, as that would spoil the demented fun for any who might be tempted to watch this thing. Instead, I’ll present the movie’s Grand Guignol Gallery of characters:
Zhurov: Soviet police captain. He *falls in love,* but, being impotent, must find a surrogate stud. Makes Harvey Keitel’s *Bad Lieutenant* look like a boy scout.
Zhurov’s mother: Crazy alcoholic hag spends all her time drinking in front of a beat-up old television. There’s a great scene where she is watching a negro song-and-dance man on the tv, and then squeals in delight “darky!”
Alexei: Farmer/bootlegger/alcoholic John the Baptist, preparing the way for the return of Christianity to Russia.
Tonya: Alexei’s hard-as-nails wife. Proverbs 31. . .with a shotgun.
Sunka: Alexei’s and Tonya’s filthy-on-the-outisde-but-clean-on-the-inside Vietnamese laborer.
Artem: Communist Party lackey/propagandist, Professor of *Scientific Atheism* at Leningrad University. . .sold his soul for extra rations of sausage.
Valera & Angelika: The Generation Perestroika kids. . .soft, whiny, already contaminated by the West. The future will be different. . .but probably not any better.
These are the main characters, and they interact in a depressing environment of alcoholism, shit cars with lawnmower engines, shabby, crumbling apartment houses, primitive farms, rusting industrial wastelands, scarred landscapes and polluted skies. Toss in the soundtrack of insanely catchy-but-bad Soviet ‘80s pop music and you have a truly memorable freakshow of Mother Russia at the cross-roads.
Oh, yeah, the title, Cargo 200, is the term for the dead soldiers being returned from Afghanistan. . .and one of these corpses has quite a homecoming!
A masterpiece from the Soviet sewer. . .
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