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This movie could be a documentary on Russian society, it's hopes and
fears, it's ideology, the eternal conflict between people and
government officials, the dark and hopeless landscape of human minds
where one can still choose to be human.
As a Russian myself, having lived in my homeland for 34 years already, I can say that there's nothing that will tell you more about Russians than this movie. It is not a heroic WW2 nonsense, not a dumb czar era pictures, but modern life as it is. The things you will see in the film are definitely depressing and hopeless, showing the state of decay in society «God created this kind of life and he made us live it.».
Newspaper articles in March of 2015 about an alleged political murder
let us recall what we learned in school about cleptocracy, or
government corruption in plain English. In hindsight, not a new
phenomenon in contemporary Russia, existing for many years already, but
it stayed for me under the radar until lately. The first time it drew
my attention was in the form of a movie, Twilight Portrait (Nikonova
2011), albeit that it could be downplayed as the proverbial rotten
apples spoiling it for the whole police force. Later on I saw two
others extending the theme, namely A Long And Happy Life (Khlebnikov
2013) and Leviathan (Zvyagintsev 2014), both showing corruption as
deep-rooted in the bureaucracy. Especially politicians seem more
involved with their own career and wealth than in their care for the
average citizen. It still can be much worse, however, as demonstrated
in Durak (The Fool), written and directed by Yuriy Bykov. This time it
seems that all of Russian society is infected with the same disease,
not only politicians and related bureaucrats. His previous film The
Major (2013) was more modest in scope, and confined to a well meant
cover-up to protect the career of a fellow policeman.
Nevertheless, all these movies portray the same corruption in Russian society, only varying in scope and depth. Corruption seems extinguished in our Western society, and something that only still persists in third-world countries far away. Despite being no third world country, all aforementioned movies suggest that Russia is deeply soaked with corruption. It is something that Durak (The Fool) demonstrates in several scenes, showing that going along with the crowd in taking what you can get "everyone does it", is the only way to survive, even necessary to obtain at least a minimal level of comfort in your lives. It is precisely in these fine details that this movie excels. Apart from corruption, alcohol is shown to be a main source for comfort and relief of the daily boredom and poor circumstances. Another way to pass the time is fighting, mostly about lack of money or living space, usually both. It applies especially to the apartment building in question, showcasing how the lowest of the lower class live and how they interact with each other.
Durak's total running time of 116 minutes may seem long for modern viewers. Admittedly, it takes its time to outline many facts of contemporary life in Russia. We are lucky to be able to see that, and as such our time is far from wasted. I could only think of one single scene that took too long for my taste, while our main character Dima walks to the restaurant where the city council has a party to celebrate the mayor's 20-years anniversary. It is shown in the form of very long uninterrupted take while following Dima along empty streets and dark houses, apparently to show the absence of a lively city center. It succeeds in leaving the impression that everyone is at home, probably drinking or fighting as seems the common way to pass the time in the various apartments visited throughout the story.
All other scenes serve their purpose very well in zooming in on the people and their motives. Take for instance the meeting with department heads convened by the mayor, where Dima has the opportunity to explain the problem and its urgency. The next scene shows Dima, accompanied by two of the department heads, how he convincingly demonstrates the sorry state of the building. Upon their return to the meeting and the seriousness is sinking in, everyone is very busy with establishing the impact on their own position, anticipating the findings of an afterward investigation when the apartment building really would collapse. It makes clear to us that the corruption is not limited to this city council alone, but extends to the levels above them. In other words, there is no simple way to get loose from this tangled web. The mayor and the department heads play their roles very well, and we have ample chance to observe their dilemma's and their reasoning which actions to take (or not).
Dima's family life is also portrayed very well in several parts of the story. The opening scene shows him studying for an exam to get a civil engineering degree, while his mother says it is a waste of time. Instead, he should rather "give" the examiners something to assure good marks. A similar discussion is about Dima's refusal to steal pipes from the factory where he works, in spite of "everyone else does it".
The central theme of the story is whether the city council will act responsibly and evacuate the apartment building, not an easy task while other premises to accommodate 820 people has to be found. I do not want to reveal further developments for spoilers sake. It can scatter in all directions until the very end, and indeed some unexpected turns of events are part of the deal here. Ultimately, there are no winners, only losers. It is very depressing all over, but I don't think a positive ending is reasonably possible in these circumstances.
All in all, acted and shot very well. Actors perform believably, even the "bad" ones. We get a good feeling why they do what they do. Actually they seem to have little alternative. That also is sadly the case for the inhabitants of the apartment building, who we observe in miserable circumstances, riddled with alcohol, noise and violence. The only problem I have with Durak (the Fool) is, that it is indeed depressingly black all over. Apart from Dami, it was totally devoid of gray and white, while aforementioned other movies with the same theme showed at least a few decent and honest people, leaving room for the conclusion that the average citizen lives a normal life, neither through-and-through corrupt (bureaucrats) nor without hope (lower classes).
Durak is a gem of a movie. It showcases a rare combination of suspense
and philosophical questioning, rendering it a very entertaining film
that leaves you thinking about it way past the end credits.
The characters in Durak are well developed, even those that do not get a lot of screen time. We get to know them, see how they live, understand their priorities and their motives. Deeper than that though, where the movie really excels is in exposing the nature and mighty power of the highly entangled system of corruption and how each individual character is both its co-creator and its puppet.
In a city with a corrupt council, a 9-floor high building block is about to collapse. It needs to be urgently evacuated. The corrupt city officials face the prospect of criminal proceedings against them if hundreds of tenants die under the rubles. Will they be able to rise above the profitable network of kickbacks and favors that they have been milking for a long time? Or have they been diving too deep into the sweet scum of corruption to get into the surface on time to actually do something useful for their poor citizens?
What about the poor citizens themselves? Living for decades in a dilapidated building under miserable circumstances, one would guess that change is what they desperately need. But 30 years is a long time. It is time enough for people to get used to the situation, to get to know to hate it, but also to cling to it at the same time as the only tangible piece of reality that still belongs to them. Reality in the form of a derelict pile of bricks that nevertheless stands as a barrier between their life on the one hand and death lurking in the snowy streets on the other. A pile of bricks where corruption also thrives, with a thread made of vodka and violence menacing the residents but also structuring the network of reality around them. Will they be willing to forgo everything and start anew or are they also too entangled to a mighty system of their own, unable to leave it behind even in the prospect of imminent death?
The force that poses these questions and stirs things up is the protagonist, Durak. He sees reality as it is and is determined to do something about it. He has no other choice, letting things be and following the song of the Sirenes of corruption is just not like him. He is the Socratean fly that sends ripples through the system, that forces the system to face its own stink and atrocity. What does that make him? The Hero or the Fool?
Do not be mistaken and take a comfortable distance from this movie, classifying it as an interesting depiction of corruption in Russia. This is not about Russia, this movie is about you. In whatever place you might live, it's you that is also noticing the web of corruption around you and the injustice, the desperation and the misery that it causes. It's you that decides to silently take part in it, in little or greater measure, or at least let it be and try to make a living somehow. It's you that keeps thinking from time to time that someone needs to do something about it all, that you need to take action to help people, to help yourself. But what would that make you? The Hero or Durak, the Fool?
Yuri Bykov's "Durak" ("The Fool" in English) looks as the current state
of affairs in Russia. This story of a plumber facing an intractable
bureaucracy when he tries to draw people's attention to a precarious
apartment building is merely one look into an oligarchic society that's
seen little infrastructural and political advancement since the Soviet
collapse. Indeed, the city government seems as hopeless as the private
citizens. The truth is, none of this should come as a surprise. Boris
Yeltsin turned Russia into a kleptocracy. Vladimir Putin stabilized the
economy but restored the Soviet-era authoritarianism. Corruption has
dominated the country ever since the USSR collapsed (and was certainly
widespread in Soviet times).
"The Fool" is mostly an indictment of Putin's Russia, but can be seen as an indictment of any society in which corruption is so ingrained that the citizens practically accept it. Worth seeing.
The Russian film Durak (2014/II) was shown in the U.S. with the title
"The Fool." Yuriy Bykov was the writer and director. The overall theme
is consistent with Dostoevsky's "The Idiot." In that novel, Prince Lyov
Nikolayevich Myshkin is an honest, kind, helpful person. No once can
believe that anyone could truly be this good, and that's why the call
him an idiot.
In a small Russian city, Syn Dimy (played by Gordey Kobzev) is also an honest, kind, helpful person, and no one respects him for it. He's a low- ranking foreman of a municipal plumbing repair crew. Syn discovers that one of the municipal housing units is about to collapse. He reports this to the authorities, but no one wants to hear it.
In a previous film by Bykov--The Major--we learned that the police department was a cesspool of corruption. In The Fool, we learn that the entire municipal system is based on corruption. Everyone is on the take. No one really cares about the 820 people in the building. The only question is how to continue in positions of power and affluence after the building collapses.
This is a brilliant, but very grim film. There's no humor in it. We saw it in the excellent Dryden Theatre at The George Eastman Museum in Rochester, NY. It's primarily set indoors--in the night club where the mayor is celebrating her 50th birthday, or in the doomed building, which houses very poor, very angry people. It will work well on the small screen. It's a movie you don't want to miss. Find it an see it.
The setup is fairly simple, during a violet domestic dispute about
stolen money that serves as the film's prologue, a water pipe bursts.
The whole scene underscores what is to come: a tale of a corrupt
society teetering on the brink of disaster socially, economically and
The hero of the film, Dima, the "durak" (fool) of the title of the film, is a bright young plumber on the way up in the world. After inspecting the damage, he soon realises that the burst pipe is merely evidence of a much larger issue: the entire block of flats is falling apart and will do so in 24 hours. While this should have been rectified during regular renovations of the building, the funds to do so were skimmed off the top by the local head of the housing organisation.
In response, Dima goes right to the very top of the provincial town in an attempt to save the lives of the occupants. Is anyone going to be motivated to act, however, if they have already been bleeding the system dry until now? Perhaps covering their own backs will prove the only motivation.
A brilliant film: one where you truly don't know whether to laugh or cry. From my time in Ukraine though, I dread just how accurate this slice of modern small town Russian life is.
You're dead in one days - that's what the engineer is saying to all the
people. But they choose to live another day. They ignore, laughing at
him, assault him and beat him. They have no idea - he's mistaken by one
another day. No one listens - not the mayor, neither her assistants,
neither the occupants of the building. He's definitely right - every
professional agrees, but people just... What can you do to tell 800
people they're in danger? Without breaking a law... And the law - is
too narrow in Russia - you're either a hero or a criminal. And why do
you even have to tell them? Everyone is looking at you like you're
somehow even more dangerous than they are. Suburbs, slum dogs... How do
you save 800 people from the "ghetto project"? While, meanwhile - your
life is in danger. No, you just don't.
8 out of ten, to show you the real Russian reality.
The 2 questions I came away with after watching this extraordinary movie were, does this kind of thing really happen in Russia, and is this really what Russia is like? I contacted my only Russian acquaintance about this, and he said the movie is an accurate, though exaggerated, depiction of small-town Russia. I was curious about his comment about the movie taking place in a small town; Russians live in massive apartment buildings in small towns? In fact not a whole lot about this film is small-townish, at least to this Canadian outsider. It feels like an urban nightmare, mostly taking place in or around this huge apartment building teeming with people, at a restaurant that's teeming with people as well - because the local government is throwing a big party for themselves - or along built-up streets. The most glaring indication that the setting is indeed a small town is when the government heads all get together in a small room to discuss an emergency situation, and we are introduced to an unsavoury ragtag assortment of drunken schemers who happen to have absolute control over the local population. There is nothing urbane about these people. It's made clear in The Fool, however, that this fiefdom's evilness is partly the result of trickle-down evilness from the federal level, and there's an underlying despondency among some of the local government officials as they seemingly have no other choice but to be corrupt. So you do get glimpses of decency and humanity within the fiefdom. But how can decency and humanity win amidst the corrupt, cutthroat, dog-eat-dog reality in modern Russia from the top down to the bottom. The Fool is a tale of flowers that attempt to grow in sewage, and what happens to them, and it is the tale of how people as individuals are affected when evil reigns. Some become evil themselves, some try to resist evil entirely, but mostly The Fool is a story about people just trying to do the best they can for themselves and their families, and be happy despite overwhelming odds, and despite hopelessness all around them.
Corruption is a cancer and Russia is terminally ill.
As our hero uncovers the truth - that a 38 year old building is on the verge of collapse, which means death to its 820 souls, he rushes to the Mayor and the public service directors to plead for an immediate government backed evacuation before it is too late.
During his struggle with corrupt government officials, to the very end of the movie we gain a grizzly yet truthful look at Russian society from the lower class to the very top of the city government; each class rotten to the core. Only redeemable feature of a society such as this is our hero. His struggle is one I could not look away from and kept me on the edge of my seat until the credits rolled because it is only then that you truly know the story is over in a plot of constant turns.
The dark atmosphere and unforgiving dialogue within the movie is (unfortunately) a staple of modern Russian cinema. No scratch that - it is Russian cinema! All too common place are dramatically dark movies which cast only doom upon the world. Mostly due to the writers mirroring the harsh life experiences that they deal with everyday!
I watched this movie because I used to live in the Soviet Union. Thankfully, I now live abroad. But, at certain times I get a pang of homesickness, when I do, I watch some modern Russian movies. And each time it does wonders to cure my homesickness and make me grateful for no longer living in a state that is as corrupted and sordid as Russia. A societal mentality that glorifies criminality and the pursuit of money in a relentless dog eat dog world.
God have mercy on this pensioner that is old mother Russia, abused and cheated out of her future by her mislead children.
It was another Russian film just like the Oscar nominee 'Leviathan'
that highlighted the corruption in a city administration, except it had
no depth in its narration like that one did. A simple tale that takes
place within the 24 hours, but strongly told. From the domestic
violence to the political targets, the film extraordinarily portrayed
its each character and some of theirs double-cross. Besides, it
discloses what the higher and lower class expects from each other, like
it is already in order and those who disturb it will be seriously get
When a public utility worker Dima Nikitin finds an enormous crack in an apartment block, initially he ignores it, but later thinks something terrible going to happen. As his duty, he notifies the higher ranked authorities in the middle of the night when they were partying. At the time when it was going to be declared emergency in the town and to take all the precaution measures, the tale takes a twist that changes the fate of many who were involved in the matter. So the dark side of the story comes into the display.
Showcasing Russia in such a bad light really hurts if you're a Russian. More than that, the outsiders judging a country from what the film depicts is very sad. It was neither true story, nor inspired by the true story, but this kind of things happens in every other countries. More or less the experts agree with the film to the present state of the Russian political landscape. It was financially co-supported by the ministry of culture that tells us they're going tough against such action. So this film was received well from all the quarters thinking such kind of portrayal might lead to transformation in the struggling society.
"A fish rots from the head down. If I am tainted, then so are all of you."
In this, the main event was given the prime focus than any of the film characters. That's why the happy or the sad ending won't matter. But there was a character who was preferred the most for his involvement in the plot. In the meantime, it also followed other characters to add more complication in its narration and the story to get going. Overall, it was something like a chain reaction that began with a domestic violence and moved to the public service till it reached its highest end, I mean the head of the each department and the politicians.
What the film's end was outlined is something the negative side of the society. The lack of the knowledge of the lower class families and the negligence of the civil servants is the reason for most of the tragedy that could have stopped before it to happen. The title is a metaphor for one who unnecessarily raising his voice in a matter where others were being quiet. All the above, knowing what's coming at you and taking an improper way to tackle it is what's going unnoticed. Unless every citizen join hands to fight against the corruption, this thing will go on.
The film totally captures our attention. Obviously a slow start, but you could have not expected the way it ended. I haven't seen a single Russian film at the recent time, but very pleased with this. It was a double strike, delivering a message as well as a fine story for a film who seek only the entertainment. In some way, it was so much simpler and better than that Oscar nominee I mentioned. Because unlike that film, in here majority of us who always root for a particular film character mostly won't end in disappointment. That's the cleverness of this narration. If you had liked that film, then you should not miss this film as well.
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