Director: Konstantin Lopushansky
Starring: Viktor Mikhaylov, Vera Mayorova,Vadim Lobanov, Irina Rakshina, Aleksandr Rasinsky, Iosif Ryklin, Yu. Sobolev, Vladimir Firsov. Russia/Soviet Union/West Germany/Switzerland. 2h 16m
The jaw dropping, mind bending and highly disjointed follow on to Dead Man’s Letters (1986), shows that Lopushansky has lost none of this amazing vision of the world after an apocalyptic disaster. Usually history is written by the victors but who really comes out on top when the entire planet sinks into a nuclear winter?
From it’s dark crimson opening, it’s clear that the world is a very different place in this complicated post-apocalyptic future, that carries on from living memories of Chernobyl. The world attempts to keep things moving as a tourist attempts to traverse the barren landscape to visit a museum buried deep below the ocean. Clothed in a long black coat and carrying a single suitcase he stumbles through massive piles of waste, fights through clouds of dangerous dust and catches the saddest looking train I’ve ever seen limp down a track. Eventually he makes it to his “hotel” a house run by rich elites that looks out onto a vibrant shore that leads to a hidden fabled Museum.
Dead Man’s Letters told the story of a man, Professor Rolan Bykov, who struggles through a wasteland left after a nuclear war, an event sparked by a simple error, made by a computer and man; that results in missiles being released bringing on a freezing dingy apocalypse. Trying to keep his sanity and hope he composes lengthy letters to his missing son. Eventually the Professor finds a safe haven in the basement of a History Museum.. this isn’t where his story ends but it leads us straight into A Visitor to a Museum.
The tourist is a very unusual character, jaunty and jangly but with a thirst for knowledge, he’s originally stoic and seems to be content in perceiving all he can of this world. He immediately stands out from everyone he meets along his journey. He’s not put off by any of the warnings of his dream destination in fact the more he learns in dusty libraries, the more he feverishly needs to go on. The hotel owners, a privileged couple, both warn him about the perils, the museum is now underwater as the polar ice caps have melted, so perfect timing is needed to wait for the tide to draw out and only the fittest can make the journey. Many people have attempted to visit the site, they have either died while getting there, getting back or staying too long at the site and drowning. He’s confident and doesn’t back down but first he has to register his visit.
Part of the progression of this tragic post nuke series of stories is how the darker side of mankind quickly returns, after banding together to survive there are now two distinct classes in this new civilization, normal people clinging onto fashion and manners, and mutants, being the underclass who live in underground camps called “The Reservation” and this is where someone has to visit in order to register their wish to visit the Museum. But it’s here where the tourist discovers a new religion and culture, something that piques his imagination. A few mutants are able to live on the surface as servants, but once a year they get together to worship a god of fire.
Where there is man, there is Hell
As with Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979), there’s so much character to be found in the broken down soviet union, he manages to set shots in landscapes which already seem alien but with clever settings, tank tracks almost look like tentacles, the massive piles of debris and waste are so massive as the characters climb them, the seem to be floating in the mess, or mass.. The aged television gives hints to how wayward society is, men in heels and dresses, something probably a bit more shocking for Soviet Russia? But everyone parties to help drown out the current situation.
The mutants are a mixed bag and their world is a nouveau medieval church, there is a dwarf and what seems to be a few people with learning difficulties, the rest just have a few prosthetics to make them look different enough. The simple conclusion is that these are the descendants of the survivors hiding out from Dead Man’s letters, the mutations are obviously from the nuclear fall out but what they are trying to achieve with their fire festival and why they adore they tourist takes a already deeply moving and cerebral narrative to new heights and adds a theological slant.
It feels so very different from a majority of movies that I’ve seen before and I’ve seen a lot of films, but there’s a distinct uneasy feeling in this alien landscape. The magic really works in the way people think, the tourist seems like his the last man alive, the rejoice, while seeming more “normal” are all quite strange and perverted, the mutants hold on tight to a desire of a savior and freedom, their pray is a single line, “get me out of here” the only person who can see things for what they are and still seems fully human is the tourist and he seeks truth and freedom unlike any other.
Looking back on the movie, it seems like two very different projects spliced together, the beginning is pretty straight forwards, there’s so delicious if not creepy scenery, much like Dead Man’s Letters, a broken post punk world that deserves investigation, but as the film progresses and the religious beliefs and philosophy takes over, the movies slows down, often long scenes filled with unknown rituals, chatting and praying, the colours become richer and deeper until the penultimate and blistering ending which leaves the viewer with a lot to think about.
R: Dead Man’s Letters (1986), Ugly Swans (2006), Stalker (1979), Salute the Jugger (1989)
L: A-Z of Russian Movies, Post Apocalyptic A-Z Vol. 1
5s: Victor Mikhaylov, Konstantin Lopushanskiy