a.k.a. Barak
Barracks Russia/Germany, 1999. Unrated. 110 minutes.

Cast: Irina Senotova, Yeveeny Sidikhni, Yulia Svezhakova, Nina Usatova, Leonid Yarmolnik, Natalya Ygarova
Writers: Valeri Ogorodnikov, Valeri Petrov

Cinematographer: Yuri Klimenko

Producers: S. Archipov, L. Yermolnic

Director: Valeri Ogorodnikov

Grade: C Review by Jeff Vorndam

B arracks is one of those zest-for-life-conquers-pain-and-suffering films where a group of eccentric commoners band together despite their differences. I'm not sure if other such films exist, but it feels like they do. Set in a small community in the Ural mountains of Russia in 1953, just after Stalin's death, Barracks begins with the arrival of Olga (Irina Senotova). Olga is alone, her entire family wiped out by a Stalinist purge in Leningrad. She is soon romanced by a militiaman named Alexei, who serves as the community liaison to the government. Everyone lives in a long hut, barracks actually, isolated from any towns. Most of the residents have been deported here. There's Jora, a one-legged Jewish photographer who entertains children by lighting his farts (eccentric! zany!), plump Polina, the constantly drunk wife of the mute Tatar Karim, Friedrich, a former German soldier married to a Russian, and crazy Guerka, who breeds doves and is revealed to have collaborated with the Nazis (and continues his betrayal streak later in the film). Barracks

The bulk of the film is simply these folk interacting with each other. Guerka baits Friedrich constantly for being German. Jora sells homebrewed vodka to Russian gangsters. Alexei investigates a fugitive murderer at the behest of some bureaucratic bigwigs. Olga gets settled and organizes a birthday party for Polina. These people are destitute, and what little they have they must share. However, they possess a strain of pluck that makes them resistant to despair. In one scene, Alexei accidentally drops his gun down the toilet. Everyone gleefully turns over the outhouse and roots through the shit to find it for him so he doesn't lose face. A climactic day in which there is a murder, a birth, and a wedding tests their mettle and provides an apotheosis of communal living. While Russia is reeling from the horrors of Stalinism, life is putting itself back together in these barracks.

I found the story and performances mildly amusing but often annoying. There's only so much nuttiness and tribulation that I can take, and Barracks taxed my capacity for both within its first half hour. These are people who find a new identity as cast-offs. No longer Russians, Germans, or Jews, they are barrack-dwellers, and they stick together. Once that's established, I sat and waited for the clock to tick out the rest of the running time. The film is watchable because of its interesting cinematography. Most scenes are shot on color stock but drained of all color, presumably to emphasize the drab surroundings. During high-spirited moments color will flood the picture and a scene will end with a beautiful freeze frame. Many shots, divorced from the humdrum story, would make great paintings. As a moving picture though, Barracks reaps small rewards.

Review © April 2000 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 1999 Darfilm. All Rights Reserved.