Cargo 200 (Gruz 200) is the term applied to the dead soldiers shipped back from Afghanistan-Soviet War. It’s estimated that the Soviet Union lost approximately 15,000 men in this conflict while over 1 million Afghans were killed, but the film isn’t about the war in Afghanistan, it’s a critique of a brutal collapsing Soviet society. While the film is based on a true story and has a political-social message, it doesn’t make it any easier to watch.
Set in 1984 in an urban wasteland the film begins with two brothers chatting and eating while they discuss their children. Army Colonel Mikhail (Yuri Stepanov) has a good relationship with his daughter and her boyfriend Valera (Leonid Bicevin) while his brother, Artem (Leonid Gromov) a professor of Scientific Atheism bemoans the direction his son is taking. That evening Valera goes to a disco alone, and there he picks up Angelika (Agniya Kuznetsova) a young girl who says her fiance is a paratrooper in Afghanistan. When Valera runs out of booze, he drives out to the remote home of his favourite bootlegger, Aleksey (Aleksei Serebryakov).
Earlier that evening, Artem ‘s car breaks down at the bootlegger’s house, and seeking help, Artem has a difficult discussion with Aleksey regarding the existence of god. While Artem delivers his standard lecture, Aleksey, who’s drunk becomes aggressive and belligerent as he defends his future, imagined utopia the “City of the Sun.” While Artem manages to leave, Valera and Angelika aren’t so lucky. When things go wrong, Angelika finds herself held captive by a sick and twisted policeman, Zhurov (Alexei Poluyan).
If you want to stick with the film, then prepare yourself. Angelika’s degradations are extremely difficult to watch. I’ve seen some reviews that tout this film as “black humour.” I don’t see the humour in an on-screen rape with a bottle, and there’s more to come….
The film’s best scene shows a plane unloading its cargo of the dead while live soldiers march on board from the other side right before the plane flies back to Afghanistan to spew out its next load. While the film’s twisted villain, Zhurov is seen as a direct product of Soviet society, the film’s message is lost in the cultural wasteland of grotesque violence. From director Aleksey Balabanov (Brother).