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Moscow Never Sleeps (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 19, 2020

Moscow Never Sleeps


Starring Alexey Serebryakov, Evgenia Brik, Yuri Stoyanov, Mikhail Efremov, Lubov Aksenova, Oleg Dolin, Anastasia Shalonko, Elena Babenko, Tamara Spiricheva, Rustam Akhmadeyev, Elena Safonova and Sergei Belov.

Screenplay by Johnny O’Reilly.

Directed by Johnny O’Reilly.

Distributed by Cavu Pictures. 96 minutes. Not Rated.

With Russia back in the news for all the wrong reasons, sometimes it is important to remember that there are just people there, no different than the rest of the world.

Moscow Never Sleeps is a mostly loving look at the Russian capital by an Irish director (one who lived in Moscow for a decade, mind you). It’s not about Putin, hacking, the GRU and oligarchs. Instead, writer/director O’Reilly casts his net out over tales of life and death among a whole cross-section of normal Muscovites living their lives over a single day.

Oddly reminiscent of the work of Robert Altman (or even a Moscow version of Crash), it has sex, drugs, smoking (lots of smoking!), drinking (even more drinking), photography, arguments, pop music, love, clubs, love lost, hate, theft, date rape, hospitals, nursing homes, kidnapping, marital strife, pension flats, glorious condos, more smoking, more drinking and a huge parade celebrating Russian culture. There’s even a tiny bit of Putin-esque politics slipped in at the end, though even then the high-powered Moscow businessman who is forced to flee to America contends that Moscow is a much better city than New York.

Compared to the dark films often made about Russian life, Moscow Never Sleeps is a veritable love letter to the city. Even its dark corners and dangerous streets turn out to be mostly character-building exercises, and death is just a capper to a life well spent.

The film opens – or seems to – on one of those corpses. A man lies on a gurney, eyes tightly closed, silent and motionless. Eventually he opens his eyes, but this life is no reprieve. This man is Valery (Yuri Stoyanov), a well-known comedian (everyone who runs across him generically refers to him as that old star) who has learned that he must get an operation or he will have a matter of weeks to live. Valery decides to forego the operation, despite the protestations of his wife, his son and his mistress. He’d rather spend his last days drinking, smoking and eating what he wants.

Valery breaks out of the hospital and is essentially kidnapped by a local hood named Arto (Rustam Akhmadeyev) and his low-rent gang, forced to drive all over the city, meet Arto’s grandma, who is a big fan, and ends up partying with the gang until his medical problems start to manifest.

Valery’s son is Ilya (Oleg Dolin), who has been morosely stalking his ex, a wannabe pop star named Katya (Evgenia Brik), who left him to be with a rich businessman named Anton (Alexey Serebryakov) who can finance her musical aspirations. However, Anton’s long-gestating business takeover is blowing up in his face and suddenly he is persona non grata in his hometown.

On the other side of the economic spectrum is Vera (Tamara Spiricheva), a nearly mute grandmother who is in the early stages of dementia. She is put in a nursing home by her remorseful grandson and less concerned son. That son Vladimir (Mikhail Efremov) has his own problems, his second wife is considering leaving him, his gorgeous daughter (Lubov Aksenova) is getting in trouble as a party girl and constantly fighting with his step-daughter Lera (Anastasia Shalonko), who is obsessing about her biological father, who she has never met.

These stories and characters crossover, mix, join together occasionally and eventually play themselves out in interesting and often provocative ways. And while Moscow Never Sleeps will never quite live up to Altman’s Nashville and Short Cuts, the films which most seem to have most inspired the film, it is a new and interesting look at a country and a people that we do not always get to see up close and personal.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2017 All rights reserved. Posted: June 19, 2017.

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