Cargo 200: Balabanov’s Russian War Film

The Disinformation Company presents the U.S. theatrical release of the Russian film CARGO 200, directed by Alexey Balabanov (“Brother”). After having screened at international film festivals, including Venice, Rotterdam and Hong Kong, CARGO 200 will open in New York at the Cinema Village on January 2, 2009. Other cities will follow.

The title of Russian director Alexey Balabanov’s twelfth film is a military term for the coffins transporting dead soldiers back home during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

The effects of that decade-long conflict provide a unifying theme for this highly controversial film that recalls the work of Gaspar Noe and Michael Haneke but with a distinctly Russian point-of-view.

CARGO 200 begins in 1984 with the introduction of two brothers: a Soviet Army colonel, and the head of the Faculty of Scientific Communism at Leningrad University. The university professor travels to visit his mother in a remote town. When his car brakes down, he stops at a rural farmhouse occupied by a husband, wife and their Vietnamese farm hand. The professor engages in a philosophical argument about the existence of God with the family patriarch, whose heated criticisms of official atheism are fueled by Utopian dreams and vodka distilled in the family barn.

Meanwhile, a young man and the daughter of a Soviet secretary of a regional party committee meet at a party. The couple decides to take a drive, and their destination is the rural farmhouse. Lurking in the shadows of the farmhouse is Zhurov, a character vaguely based on Russian serial killer Gennady Mikhasevich. Although Mikhasevich was simply a depraved lunatic, Balabanov presents Zhurov as an emblem of both human perversion and the manifest corruption of the Soviet government. Zhurov’s appearance signals a series of loathsome events that form the rest of the film’s narrative.

In a 2007 Wall Street Journal interview, Alexey Balabanov spoke of CARGO 200 in the following terms: “I show what filth we live in. Society was sick from 1917 onwards.” In light of Balabanov’s remarks, CARGO 200 might best be summarized as a grim epitaph for the death of the former Soviet Union.

Running Time: 90 Minutes.