Major Sergey Sobolov gets a phonecall informing him that his wife has gone into labour...in a rush driving too fast he accidentally kills a seven year old boy right in front of the child's mother...his natural reaction is to cover up the incident...and from there on chaos ensues...the real problems with the cover up occur when Sobolev's guilty conscience catches up with him...This isn't your typical police corruption story...there are no one dimensional characters and a lot of moral questions are raised throughout the film...nothing is black and white...during one part of the film the following question is asked: 'would you report your husband if he ran over a child'...and one has to ask whether the police protecting their own is any different from the rest of us...Denis Svedov as Sergey delivers a powerful performance as does Irina Nizina as Irina, the boys mother...Yuri Bykov who also directs the film is excellent as Pasha...This film could have presented a simple good vs bad guy scenario and i'm glad it didn't...everyone is all too human but find themselves doing inhumane things in a difficult situation...how far would you go to save others and yourself?...and what can you live with?...
A police sergeant, driving at high speed to hospital to witness his wife's child delivery, causes a fatal accident. A corrupt colleague who arrives on the scene (a terrific performance by the director Yuri Bykov), offers him two choices: make an honest report and damage your career or we will help you blame it on the other driver (a woman whose child was killed in the accident). There follows a gripping thriller which poses serious moral questions. The Major packs a heavy punch and Yuri Bykov is obviously a name to watch. An atmospheric, beautifully acted film with direction, photography and editing to match. A real find and highly recommended.
I was fortunate enough to see a DCP of this film tonight at a local theatre, and was duly impressed by emerging auteur Yuriy Bykov's second feature. Bykov, who wrote, directed, co- starred in, scored, and edited the film, has turned in a sophomore effort that duly justifies his rapid rise to esteem in modern Russian cinema. Ostensibly an action film, "The Major" is really a bleak and uncompromising morality play, focusing on moments in time when characters have to make choices - and the slippery slope towards an event horizon where choices are then made for the characters on the basis of their previous decisions, regardless of their current feelings. Major Sergey Sobolev (Denis Shvedov) in particular stands out as a modern-day Raskolnikov, who in one split second sets off a chain of events that seemingly becomes irreversible.The film opens with a moment of elation followed by a scene of unintended, but avoidable, violence which sets the tone for the rest of the picture. After receiving the news that his wife is in labor, Sergey speeds through a bleak, snowbound Russian landscape, carelessly passing other motorists. At a bus stop, a child begins walking away from his mother into the road. Moving too quickly to stop, Sergey honks his horn too late and swerves left - but the horn, and the mother's screaming, scare the boy, and he runs into the path of the car, being killed almost immediately. Sergey - seemingly in shock - looks around and appraises the situation. Then he begins to make choices. After a quick look, he makes no effort to save the boy; he locks the mother in the car, panicking, and takes her mobile phone when she tries to call out. He calls the station, and gets his friend Pasha (Bykov), at which point he is faced with another choice: does he take the consequences for his reckless driving, or with a wink and a nod, does he get the corrupt policemen he works with to cover for him? Of course, it is the latter choice, and with the arrival of Pasha and Merkulov (Ilya Isayev), an inevitable fate begins to set it - and the story begins to unfold.Far from being the standard sort of mindless action drivel being pumped out of Hollywood studios by the likes of Michael Bay, "The Major" intelligently - and non-judgmentally - asks viewers at what point grey morality becomes black morality; at what point the results of a bad decision become irreversible and inevitable; at what point would the viewer themselves make the same (possibly immoral) choice. Without spoiling anything, this last question is devilishly well handled towards the end of the film. The film also asks what part loyalty plays, as it becomes clear that we're dealing with a group of coppers who cover for each other on a regular basis, on issues both mundane and serious. But the escalation of the situation, as the choices go from "good to not so good" right down to "bad or downright abysmal", is what truly drives this film; the action is merely a storytelling device that exists to impart gravitas to the thematic underpinnings.The acting is superb throughout; Shvedov and Bykov in particular turn in wonderfully nuanced performances. Isayev is great as well, in an understated performance that conveys his lack of agency throughout. The dead child's parents (Irina Nizina and Dmitriy Kulichkov) are believable in their various stages of grief, rage, anguish, and finally acceptance. The rest of the cast is fine as well. The film is beautifully shot in such a way as to provide a constant, grinding sense of despair and grit - from the yellow-green tinged police station to the snow-swept landscapes. The cinematography might not rival Sven Nykvist's work, but it is well above competent. Bykov's score, while occasionally over the top, complements the moods well most of the time. The pacing is excellent, and the resolution of the film works very well.It is worthy of note that, while this film gives the viewer plenty to contemplate, it does not emulate the metaphor-laden idiom that is characteristic of Russian cinema since at least Tarkovsky. The themes are fairly clear, and while the narrative is structured around an overwhelming web of decisions and consequences, the interpretations tend to be fairly clear. It is clearly of a different era and a different language than, say, Alexei Gherman's "Hard To Be a God", another 2013 Eastern Bloc gem. Highly recommended; I'd give it a 9/10.
The Russian film Mayor was shown in the U.S. with the title The Major (2013/I). It was written and directed by Yuriy Bykov. It stars Denis Shvedov as Sergey Sobolev, who is a major in the police force. Director Yuriy Bykov plays Pavel Korshunov, called Pasha, another high-ranking police officer.The film begins with Sergey driving very fast and recklessly to get to the hospital where his wife is in labor. He ignores warning signs and and speeds past a bus stop, where his car hits and kills a young boy. There is no question in anyone's mind--including Sergey's--that he's guilty of what we would call involuntary manslaughter or negligent homicide. If he were almost anything but a police officer, that would be that. However, he's a high-ranking police official, and he has options that others wouldn't have. He calls his fellow officer, Pasha, to help him decide what to do next.What follows if convoluted, horrifying, and very, very grim. The entire police force is in cesspool of incompetence and corruption. Sergey is involved in the corruption, although he appears to be a competent police officer, and he's well liked by other members of the force.Irina Nizina plays Irina Gutorova, the young boy's mother, and she does an outstanding job in a difficult role.For me, the real star of the movie is Pasha, played by director Bykov. Pasha is the ultimate pragmatist. He occasionally appears to be considering the consequences of his terrible actions, but he always ends up ignoring the evil and doing what needs to be done. It's hard for me to comprehend how an outstanding director can also be an outstanding actor. It's even harder for me to comprehend how the director can direct his own acting in a movie. It's just astonishing, and I watched the film with awe.We saw this film at the outstanding Dryden Theatre at the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, NY. (Incidentally, this is an extraordinary venue in which to see movies.) The Major will work well on the small screen, although you may lose some of the sense of a Russian winter in a rural area.This is a movie definitely worth seeking out and seeing. Just don't expect rainbows and unicorns at the end.
I saw this film at the Leiden film festival 2013 (LIFF). It is not the usual story about the incompetent police force in Russia. Neither is corruption the issue here, also a popular topic in Russian films. Nevertheless, the local police does not leave a positive impression after this, and we cannot know whether this applies only to the city at hand. Anyway, intended as social commentary or not, the people working in the police force show their human nature, precisely that being the cause of all the intricacies we witness in this movie. They mean well, but they weave a tangled web, so to speak.It starts simply with colleagues wanting to prevent a fellow police officer punished for something he is formally accountable for, namely fatally wounding a child while hastily driving to a maternity hospital after a phone call that his wife was about to give birth to a child. But, given his spotless past plus the obvious reasons for his speedy driving, those colleagues are prepared to bend the truth a little bit.It could have worked. However, higher echelons insist on a water tight cover up, that can never reach a court. That includes "coercing" the mother of the killed child to agree on a false statement. In spite of everyone's good intentions, with each step it gets more and more out-of-control. There is no easy way out of the mess, getting more problematic by the hour.All in all, in spite of the depressing view on the Russian police force we see in action, the self-inflicted complications make this into an interesting story. We witness the averse side effects of the well-intended cover-up, and the equally well-intended corrective actions making the situation worse and worse. I'd rather not deal with the police force and their superiors within city hall, such as the ones portrayed in this film. It is comforting that it is in a country far away, and we can safely watch the story explode in everyone's faces from our comfy chairs. The ability to see many other countries and different "political" rules of engagement, is a nice feature of a film festival. This film offered some good insights in that respect, and precisely that defines the positive things about this film. Most festival visitors seem to disagree, however, as this film ranked a lowly 37th place (out of 55) for the audience award.