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'TransCultural Express' presents 'Of Freaks and Men: The Films of Aleksei Balabanov', the first US retrospective of the late Russian filmmaker, December 3—10

The Mikhail Prokhorov Fund and The Brooklyn Academy of Music present Of Freaks and Men: The Films of Aleksei Balabanov, the first complete US retrospective of the acclaimed Russian filmmaker. Arguably the most radical, defiantly uncompromising Russian director to emerge since the collapse of communism, Aleksei Balabanov, who died suddenly this year at age 54, captured the Wild West atmosphere of the post-Soviet era in movies that oozed with caustic irony, macabre humor, and outré violence. Moving between offbeat experimental works and more mainstream, but equally personal, genre films, Balabanov—already a cult sensation in Russia—is ripe for discovery. 

Of Freaks and Men is part of TransCultural Express: American and Russian Arts Today, a collaborative project between the Mikhail Prokhorov Fund and BAM. For more information, see http://prokhorovfund.com/projects/own/270/.

Opening the series on December 3 Balabanov’s first two features: his narrative debut Happy Days (1991), a reimagining of the Samuel Beckett play, and The Castle (1994), an adaptation of Kafka’s unfinished novel. An official selection of Un Certain Regard at Cannes, Happy Days follows a man through a string of surreal encounters after his release from the hospital, all in striking black and white cinematography by frequent Balabanov collaborator Sergey Astakhov. Balabanov’s sophomore feature, The Castle further revealed his interest in absurdism with a bizarre, inventive interpretation of Kafka’s parable of existentialism and bureaucracy. Screening Wednesday, December 4 is Of Freaks and Men (1998—Dec 4), Balabanov’s dark comedy about the invasion of pornography in early-1900s St. Petersburg. Hailed as “a witty, inventive exercise of historical imagination and cinematic style” (Stephen Holden, The New York Times), the film garnered two Nika Awards (Russia’s Oscar) for Best Film and Best Director. Happy Days, The Castle, and Of Freaks and Men have never been released on video in the US and will be presented in rare 35mm screenings for this series.

In 1997, Balabanov’s Brother (Dec 7) became his first breakout hit and an instant commercial success in Russia. Drawing comparisons to Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas and the James Bond franchise, the film exposes the crime rings, poverty, and rebellious youth of the post-Soviet era with grimy detail and Balabanov’s signature caustic satire. Brother became Russia’s highest grossing film that year, managing to be “both commercial and a comment on commercialism…not only a highly entertaining genre film but a political statement as well—imagining, even as it warns against, the strong man’s return” (J. Hoberman). Brother spawned Brother 2 (2000—Dec 7), a defiantly nationalistic sequel set in Chicago, and cemented Balabanov’s powerful voice in the Russian New Wave.

The self-proclaimed “anti-establishment rock’n’roller of Russian film” became known for his unflinching perspective of corruption in his post-Soviet homeland, through both dark comedies and grisly crime dramas. Highlights of Balabanov’s work in the 2000s include Dead Man’s Bluff (2005—Dec 6), a blood-soaked action comedy with Tarantino-esque wit; Cargo 200 (2007—Dec 6), a nightmarish thriller based on a true story; Morphia (2008—Dec 5), a “deliciously funny and graphically gory take on Mikhail Bulgakov’s Notes of a Young Doctor” (David Jenkins, Time Out NY); and The Stoker (2010—Dec 8), a nihilistic comedy set to a bossa nova soundtrack.

Balabanov’s final film, Me Too (2012—Dec 8), made its US premiere in BAMcinématek’s Russian Cinema Now series in June. A comedic, Kaurismäki-esque take on Tarkovsky’s tour-de-force sci-fi epic Stalker (1979), the film is a “disarmingly deadpan and deceptively ambitious blend of black comedy, crime, and metaphysics” (Neil Young, The Hollywood Reporter)—synthesizing in one film the many things that Balabanov did best.

Film schedule: http://www.bam.org/film/2013/balabanov

For press information, please contact 

Lisa Thomas at 718.724.8023 / lthomas@BAM.org

Hannah Thomas at 718.724.8002 / hthomas@bam.org

Uliana Kopteva (in Russia) at +7 985 999 23 63 / kopteva@prokhorovfund.ru