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HomeReview‘Limonov: The Ballad’: Cannes Review

‘Limonov: The Ballad’: Cannes Review

Dir. Kirill Serebrennikov. Italy/France/Spain 2024. 138mins.

The phrase ‘ballad’ within the title of Kirill Serebrennikov’s new movie is telling. Limonov: The Ballad resembles these lengthy ironic narrative poems of the nineteenth century, à la Lord Byron or, extra germanely, Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin. Based mostly on the lifetime of twentieth century Soviet author and controversialist Eduard Limonov, Serebrennikov’s English-language movie is a rambling, unruly, picaresque yarn, its really feel of chaos completely evoking the character of its mercurial protagonist.

A rambling, unruly, picaresque yarn

Initially deliberate as a mission for writer-director Pawel Pawlikowski, credited as co-writer and exec producer, the movie is executed very a lot within the breakneck model of Leto, Serebrennikov’s 2018 movie concerning the USSR rock scene, and in spirit it’s simply as a lot a rock ‘n’ roll film. Essentially the most completed movie but from the Russian director, Limonov is a bracingly entertaining piece that ought to draw worldwide consideration on the energy of its central determine’s cult reputation (he was the topic of an acclaimed 2011 non-fiction novel by French writer Emmanuel Carrère) and of a mesmerising, protean lead by Ben Whishaw.

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Poet, punk, exile, political chief… Limonov lived many lives, though a lot of what he mentioned about himself has been contested as questionable self-mythologising – which solely provides to his mystique. Born Eduard Savenko, he took the title ‘Limonov’, a play on each ‘lemon’ and the Russian slang for ‘hand grenade’. He’s seen initially as an exile returning to Russia within the perestroika interval, setting the tone for the image of a person who was at all times a contrarian and a self-styled everlasting outsider.

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A employee in a Kharkov (now Kharkiv), Ukraine SSR smelting plant in 1969, ‘Edichka’ (Eddie) Liminov is seen studying his offended youthful poetry at a writers’ soiree, the place he rages in opposition to a complacent older bard who tells him to be completely satisfied together with his life within the provinces. As a substitute, Limonov heads for Moscow, the place naturally he hates nearly everybody, however falls for Elena (Beanpole star Viktoria Miroshnichenko), a glamorous magnificence supposedly out of his league. He courts her by providing at hand sew her a pair of denims, they usually turn out to be lovers – and keep collectively after her highly effective beau punches Limonov within the face.

A self-published author working exterior the Writers Union system, however contemptuous of revered dissidents Solzhenitsyn and Joseph Brodsky, Limonov falls foul of the authorities, however is allowed to depart the USSR. He and Elena arrive in New York in 1975, the place he swans round in a white rock star go well with and she or he turns into a profitable mannequin. However ultimately she drifts away, cash runs out, and Limonov goes right into a depressive tailspin, wandering the streets and ultimately having an evening of tough intercourse with a homeless man. One way or the other he then turns into butler to a rich New York industrialist, and later winds up in Paris, the place he achieves literary success with books comparable to his autobiographical It’s Me, Eddie. Lionised by French cultural circles, he’s interviewed on the radio (by Sandrine Bonnaire), the place he derides literature, praises Stalin and punches considered one of his interlocutors. 

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Limonov comes throughout as a person in a state of everlasting, undirected revolt, at completely different factors raging in opposition to Communism, dissidents, US capitalism, Western romanticism concerning the USSR. Limonov’s strangest interval, and the toughest to elucidate, was his founding in 1993 of the Nationwide Bolshevik Occasion, a Russian opposition organisation that appeared to mix parts of far-left and far-right ideology, and that right here comes throughout as a type of neo-punk skinhead boys’ membership – seeming to embody a lifelong profession of provocation and posturing as a type of efficiency artwork. 

Actually the movie comes throughout in its revved-up, fragmented, ramshackle manner as a contemporary Russian epic – with Limonov as a singular anomalous particular person, but on the identical time in some way exemplifying the contradictions and neuroses of a tormented fashionable nation. He additionally comes throughout as a human, flawed determine, self-aggrandising, self-pitying, generally helplessly romantic. Whether or not we will absolutely perceive Limonov – and a few of his extra aberrant traits, comparable to his help for Russia’s annexation of the Donbass area, famous in an finish title – is one other matter.

All through, Whishaw’s characterisation is a tour de drive, his Limonov generally grandiose and monstrous, generally tender and even ridiculous, however what’s exceptional is how efficiently he sews collectively all of the completely different registers of an elusive determine. All this, and with a convincing Russian accent. 

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A movie of fragments – echoing the collage model of punk fanzines, with chapter titles in daring letters and dashes of scrappy animation, as per Leto – Limonov crackles with power. Specifically, DoP Roman Vasyanov and editor Yuriy Karikh profit from Vlad Ogay’s New York avenue units (the movie was shot considerably in Riga), that are labored and reworked to bustling impact. Later sections lag barely, though there may be an commanding, considerate look by British veteran Donald Sumpter, as Limonov’s USSR-nostalgic dad. Music is used to pointed impact, though rock traditionalists might wince at some counter-intuitively restyled Velvet Underground covers by Russian band Shortparis.

Manufacturing corporations: Wildside, Chapter 2, Fremantle Spain, France 3 Cinema, Hype Studios

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Worldwide gross sales: Imaginative and prescient Distribution marcello.bisceglie@visiondistribution.it

Producers: Ardavan Safaee, Ilya Stewart, Dimitri Rassam, Mario Gianani, Lorenzo Gangarossa

Screenplay: Kirill Serebrennikov, Ben Hopkins, Pawel Pawlikowski, primarily based on the novel Limonov by Emmanuel Carrere

Cinematography: Roman Vasyanov

Manufacturing design: Vlad Ogay

Editor: Yurii Karikh

Music: Massimo Pupillo

Most important forged: Ben Whishaw, Viktoria Miroshnichenko, Thomas Arana, Corrado Invernizzi, Maria Mashkova, Sandrine Bonnaire

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