December 8th, 2014: Eastern Promises (2007)

EasternPromises

Cast and Crew: David Cronenberg (Director); Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassel

What It’s About: Anna, a young British woman of Russian descent, witnesses the death of a pregnant Russian teenager.  Eager to find her family and a home for the posthumous newborn, she ends up in contact with various dangerous members of the Russian mafia in London, including boss Semyon, his son Kirill, and upwardly mobile chauffeur Nikolai (Mortensen).  The plot is complex and delves into difficult topics like human trafficking, but the film probably became known most widely for its violence, including a scene of nude bathhouse wrestling with knives.  (The Alliance of Women Film Journalists gave the film EDA awards for Best Actor, Best Depiction of Nudity or Sexuality, and the Unforgettable Moment Award, all on the strength of Homicidal Naked Aragorn.)

Why Watch it Today?: On December 8, 1991, an event occurred that most of us growing up in the Eighties would never have imagined: the official dissolution of the USSR.  The signing of the Belevezha Accords between Russia, Ukraine and Belarus dissolved the core of a broadly “Rus”sian state that stretched back to Viking times.  As we all know, things haven’t exactly been smooth sailing in the years since.  Russia has proven less than hospitable to the rule of law, with the depredations of a plutocratic oligarchy under Yeltsin giving way to the distressingly familiar imperialist interventionism and cult of personality of Putin.  Meanwhile, the export of significant amounts of wealth and numbers of emigrees to places like London has seen the rise of the Russian mafia.  This film is set in that seedy underbelly of Russian London.  It’s probably not the apogee of accuracy, but it’s well-acted and atmospherically filmed, and will keep you on the edge of your seat.

 

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