The Stoker, ICA Cinema 26 May

**

stoker

One of those films where the audience were laughing nervously with relief at the end, hardly believing they had managed to survive something so tedious.

This was the last film of Aleksei Balabanov, who marked it by dying a week or two ago, and is set in St Petersburg in the lawless 1990s.  Our protagonist is Major Skryabin, an ethnic Yakut who was concussed in Afghanistan and is now working as a stoker.  He also has a daughter (Sasha) with expensive tastes.

He obliges a corrupt policeman who he got to know in Afghanistan by disposing of inconvenient corpses in his furnaces.  The policeman’s daughter Masha runs a shop selling Yakut furs with Masha, and they share the affections of the policeman’s silencious sidekick.

It’s not going to end happily…

The structure of the film is that characters trudge through the snow to witness or take part in scenes of stylised evil, and so it very much recalls Of Freaks and Men, where the characters steamed along the canals of St Petersburg with the same end in view.

The major is also writing a book, or rather trying to recreate a book he read before he was concussed–it’s about Yakuts being brutalised by a convict billetted on them.  At the end little Vera, who has been visiting the major to look at the fires in the furnaces, reads the unfinished manuscript and we get some pastiche sepia porn, very like an out-take from Of Freaks and Men.

You could also see this as straightforward Putinite propaganda–in the 90s Heroes of the Soviet Union had not where to lay their head, but order has been restored now…

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