Search the Cinema Head Cheese Archives!

March 12, 2013

Movie Review: Bullet Collector (2012, DVD)

Review By: Rob Sibley

Sobiratel Pul aka “The Bullet Collector” is hands down the best art house movie I've seen so far in 2013. It's unlike any other art house film I've seen. The film is being compared to François Truffaut's 400 Blows which is understandable since the story itself parallels the 1959 French classic. But besides with dealing with similar issues the two films couldn't be more different. This Russian film is the first feature length film from Aleksandr Vartanov, who's only previous credit was as a co-director on a Russian sitcom.

This is an incredible debut feature film, I never would have guessed that this is Vartanov's first real time behind the camera. I should say right off the bat that this is either a love it or hate it sort of film. As with a lot of Russian films the subject matter is incredibly dark and depressing. But if you look closely enough through all the bleakness, grit and grime there is some hidden beauty to be found in this picture.

The plot concerns a troubled fourteen year old boy by the name of “On” (Ruslan Nazarenko). He lives an awful life, he's abused both by his step-father and classmates on a daily basis. His mother has stopped caring and is so lost in herself that she's blind to her husband's abuse to her son. Considering his “life” or lack there of one On retreats into a fantasy world. In this imaginary world he is strong, not a victim. In this world two gangs exist.

The first being “The Bullet Collectors” a group of assassins who never miss their targets. Even the cops are scared of them. They've gotten the name of the Bullet Collectors because they always take the spent shell casings from the victims that they've killed. They carry mythical guns which can only be seen by the Bullet Collectors and the victims. When On is asked about his weapons he says he has three guns. “The Gun of Light, The Gun of Dark and The Gun of Mercy”. Also in this imaginary world On's father himself was a legendary Bullet Collector.

On also has a beautiful girlfriend in his fantasy and even a young kid who eventually serves as his apprentice. But reality takes an even more dark turn for poor old On. He's forced to defend himself at one point, stabbing a bully in the crotch with a pair of scissors. This action has On sent to a juvenile prison. But this Russian Juvi makes the American counterparts and British borstals look like cake. Imagine the borstal from Alan Clarke's British classic “Scum” add in some militaristic armed guards and you got a slight idea of what were dealing with.

The film weaves in and out of On's real life and the fantasy world he has created in his mind. Through-out the film it is difficult to tell what's reality and what's fantasy. But that doesn't take away from the viewing pleasure of this film. This film should have been an incredibly hard pill to swallow. Films that mix reality and fantasy with no clear indication of which are which are often frustrating. But due to directors Vartanov's stunning cinematography and choice use of visuals the film works as moving poetry.

Vartanov's vision for the film is disturbing and hauntingly beautiful at the same time. Vartanov is able to even make the most grim setting look oddly breathtaking when he chooses. His direction at times reminded me of early Herzog. Much like Herzog, Vartanov has no problem stopping the story and going silent. Just so he can focus on peoples faces who say nothing. On images on trees and urban decay that convey so much more then the spoken word. At other times during the fantasy sequences the film can feel like a less kinetic version of a Shinya Tsukamoto film. Such as a sequence involving the ghost of a dead Bullet Collector slowly wrapping his head in his own intestines.

The film isn't overly graphic violence wise, but the violence contained in the picture is highly disturbing. Especially considering all the abuse is inflicted upon characters in their pre-teens or younger. One harrowing sequence has On being beat up in his school's bathroom. After his head has been dunked in the toilet a kid about half his age enters the bathroom. Only to be mugged and kicked by On, venting his own frustrations out on a completely harmless child. Also the film contains a lot of scenes of young kids brandishing weapons, brutally beating and stabbing each other. So be warned that just because this isn't overly graphic the impact is very strong. Especially in the final twenty minutes where everything reaches it's boiling point. 

The film never tells you if you should root for On or not. He's certainly a product of his environment and the whole nature vs nurture concept does come into play. But it's difficult to root for a character who beats up a seven year old kid. But the film never judges On, it just plays witness to his acts of reality and fantasy. The shift in tone is also impeccable, Bullet Collector moves from an urban drama/fantasy to a prison drama with ease.

This film is going to divide audiences big time. I'm not sure how big the market is for Russian art house pictures are in the first place. Add to that a challenging storyline and an uncompromisingly bleak story and you have a love it or hate it film. This reviewer loved the film though, it's truly a work of art.

Bullet Collector is brought to in a 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer courtesy of Artploitation. The high contrast black and white photography looks stunning.

For audio we get a Russian 2.0 track that is perfectly acceptable, no complaints.

Extras are very cool indeed. The best being a 12 page booklet with linear notes from Travis Crawford. Also included in the booklet is an enlightening 3 page interview with the director. As far the disks actual extras we get treated to 25 minute making of segment. Which is a nice bit fly on the wall style footage. Also included is a single deleted scene, audition tapes, trailer for the film and trailers for other Artploitation films. As a side note there past release of the modern day youth yakuza flick “Hard Romanticker” comes recommended from this reviewer, but that's another review for another time.

All and all this is a brilliant Russian art house film, it's a challenging watch sure but it still comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

No comments:

Post a Comment