Brother (1997)

“What’s good for the Russian is death for the German.”

The late Sergei Bodrov Jr. stars in the gripping Russian gangster film Brother (Brat). And don’t let the title fool you–there’s no filial affection here between the two brothers, Danila (Sergei Bodrov Jr.) and his older sibling Viktor (Viktor Sukhorukov). When the film begins, Danila has just left the army and with a brutal skirmish en route, he returns home to his mother. His mother takes one look at Danila and advises him to leave their village and join Viktor, who leads a successful life in St. Petersburg. Danila arrives in St Petersburg but doesn’t seek out his brother immediately. Instead he hangs around a music shop indulging his obsession, and he also intervenes in between a German street seller and a brutal street thug.

Viktor, as it turns out is a hit man known as the Tartar (the subtitles: Tatar), and at first Viktor seems to want to help Danila, giving him money to find a place to live. It soon becomes quite clear, however, that Viktor is in some considerable trouble with the gangsters he works for, and he’s quite ready to use Danila to save his own skin.

Danila is a fascinating, complex character. Throughout the film, he insists that he spent his time in the army as clerk in HQ, but his considerable assassination skills put a lie to the theory that he was a pencil pusher. Danila is a stone cold killer, but there’s something more afoot. Does he also possess a streak of the avenging angel? It’s a possibility–especially when we see Danila act with a tad more mercy than his brutal counterparts. But on the other hand, I think it can also be argued that Danila is even more brutal than those he’s up against. While some of the other killers he runs across take a sadistic pleasure in their work, in Danila a dark void fills the space explaining his actions. There’s one scene in the film when Danila ‘saves’ an innocent bystander who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but then he expects this person to help him clean up after a messy job. In another brilliant scene, Danila hangs out at a party as an uninvited guest, attracted to the music, the mood and the camaraderie, and it could be interpreted that he has a glimpse of the sort of life that he never had a chance to enjoy, but does this even occur to Danila in his morally disconnected brain? Does he show humanity in his friendships with a motley assortment of downtrodden street characters, or are they just useful tools? Directed by Aleksei Balabanov, Brother is in Russian with subtitles.

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Filed under Gangster, Russian

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