Three years ago, I wrote briefly for the now defunct eyepiece.com. The following was a review dated May 14, 1998.
A Friend of the Deceased
Sony Pictures Classics
Anatoli, the main character in the film, is an intellectual who is unable to give up the luxuries of the Soviet period: conversations between friends, reading, and pure, selfless research.
- Director Vyacheslav Krishtofovich
There must be many people in the former Soviet Union who are now wondering where all the flying cars and cybernetic hospitals they were promised are supposed to be, now a decade after their paternalistic government fell apart around them. Where now is the utopia promised by the Voice of America if only they would accept capitalism, which means exactly the same thing as democracy, which means exactly the same thing as streets paved with gold? The tone of Vyacheslav Krishtofovich's A Friend of the Deceased (Priyatel Pokoinika) has the feel of a people swindled by false promises, but with no one to blame for their gullibility except themselves.
Set in Ukraine, now pretty much a Third World anarchy, people who may have once studied foreign languages or industrial chemistry now find they must adapt themselves as advertisers, errand-boys, prostitutes, or hitmen to pay the bills. What were once marriages and friendships became replaced by business relationships and financial arrangements... except our unemployed protagonist, Anatoli (Alexander Lazarev), who just plain failed to adapt, who is unable to see every relationship in terms of doing business. But he sees his world around him with barely any sense of shock, anger, outrage, or even melodramatic sadness. It seems after 10 years of the same old chaos, he is filled with a profound and impotent apathy.
The twisted plot is wonderfully written, slow and still at times, at others dark and sardonically humorous. The way Anatoli becomes entangled into the life of a killer is both preposterous and entirely reasonable. It is only at the end that Krishtofovich seems unsure what to do. The ending is weak compared to the rest of the film, but at least it's not cheesy.
Despite the superficial differences between the Soviet Union and South Korea, the recent Asian currency crisis and bank collapses have put South Korea at the same point, looking over the same precipice that Ukraine did a decade ago. People who once thought they had a job for life are now at a loss for how to move forward. Could this be South Korea in 10 years? Time will tell. A Friend of the Deceased ends with a tentative note. He can't find his way back to the world he once knew and can only hold out an uneasy, queasy hope that the way forward isn't leading him into another dead end.
Some things I notice, now rereading my writing, besides what has been mentioned previously:
1. Surprising use of the word "anarchy" in the traditional sense - will I ever live it down?
2. It's amazing to compare the lack of hope people had a just a few years ago with the principled activism of today. The world is running on internet time.