Sunday, June 24, 2012

... as the walls come crumbling down

Viktor Pelevin has long liked to combine elements of the ancient past, present and future in his stories.  My favorite is Life of Insects, in which insects literally morph into humans, although they retain their entomological instincts.  In Generenation π, the story revolves around a young independent Russia, being weaned on Pepsi and trying to come to terms with the American lifestyle invading their country.  The book was published in 1999, before Putin rose to power, giving it a first hand feel of the situation.  The English translation is called Babylon.  Pelevin sets a black market atmosphere, which characterized much of Eastern Europe at the time, but told with wit and irony.

Russians have long saw themselves as Eurasians.  One of the favorite quotes I hear is "scratch the surface of a Russian and you will find an Asian," so Pelevin plays heavily on Mesopotamian themes, in which a young advertising copy writer tries to unlock the secrets of the pell mell world of crime, corrupt politics and Chechan terrorism with a little help from an old acquaintance who turns him onto mushrooms.

The film is fast and furious in its approach, not much unlike Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but is well rooted in Russian modern culture.  Victor Ginzburg does a great job of fusing images and creating hallucinogenic other worlds which Babylen Tartasky (Vladimir Epifantsev) finds himself having to navigate if he wants to stay alive.  Some viewers will recognize Vladimir Menshov from Day Watch and Night Watch. He was Geser, and plays a very similar role in this film.  Eventually, Babylen works himself right into the oligarchic hierarchy of New Russia with great comic effect.  A world that appears on the edge of collapse, until a computer generated image of a leader all too similar to Putin is created to bring a sense of stability.

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