Posted May 24, 2011 by editor in Film Reviews

Russia 88 Review

There’s a scene in this skinhead mockumentary when Shtik (Petr Fedorov), the charismatic leader of the titular gang, in response to the cameraman asking him when he chose to become a skinhead, jokingly responds that it was after seeing Romper Stomper. This is arguably a clever bit of lamp shading from director Pavel Bardin – the film owes a debt to the controversial Aussie skinhead flick, which peeled back the soap-inspired sunny stereotype of Australia to portray the grim realities of working-class Melbourne.

Bardin’s film attempts similarly to expose the racial tensions simmering in Russia (for which it’s courted controversy with the Russian authorities) and the unsettling popularity of far-right groups as a result of this. This is most evident in the real-life man-on-the-street interviews conducted by an in-character Fedorov, who finds among the interviewees consensus xenophobia not far removed from that of the fictional group. Some participants even willingly repeat the slogan ‘Russia for Russians’.

This socially-conscious angle, laudable as it is, does not detract from Russia 88’s strength as a work of fiction—it’s a well-written, tense film which uses the unparalleled urban grimness of the Moscow city limits to backdrop an equally grim story. Like other good skinhead films (This is EnglandRomper Stomper)Russia 88 seeks to vilify the ideology rather than those who follow it – the characters are well fleshed-out and often likeable, especially Shtik, the film’s compelling anti-hero, a conflicted young man whose life, you feel, might have followed an entirely different trajectory had he not been seduced by the far-right.

Russia 88 is one of the most vital films to come out of Eastern Europe in recent years, simultaneously a gripping, harrowing drama and an alarming account of race relations in Russia.

Adam Richardson