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A Modern Kiev Man

[whitespace] A Friend of the Deceased Buddy System: Anatoli (Alexandre Lazarev) finds a belated reason to live when he meets Lena (Tatiana Kriviskaya).

Capitalism dogs Ukrainian man in 'A Friend of the Deceased'

By Michelle Goldberg

IT'S ALMOST UNCANNY that Bulworth and the Ukrainian film A Friend of the Deceased are opening at the same time. In each, a man takes out a hit on himself after being ground down by his country's relentless capitalism and then learns to love life again with the help of a spunky, marginalized girl. But in each case, it's too late to call off the assassination.

What's stranger still is that despite the incredible similarities, each film is totally specific to its own country. While Bulworth only makes sense in the context of American politics, A Friend of the Deceased can only be understood against the background of the manic transition from communism to brutal consumerism in the former Soviet Union.

Unlike Bulworth, a comedy about a political insider suffering over his hypocritical compromises, A Friend of the Deceased is a plaintive moral drama about a man who can't adapt to modern capitalism. An intellectual who had once made a living as a translator, Anatoli (played by sexy, sad-eyed Alexandre Lazarev) is unemployed in the new Kiev, while his cell-phone-toting wife, Katia (Angelika Nevolina), who is flourishing, decides to leave him for a man with more money.

An old friend, Dima (Eugen Pachin), urges Anatoli to take out a hit on his wife's lover. Dima's darkly comic casualness in contacting the hired killer is the first indication of how anarchic and treacherous the Ukraine has become. "Haven't you learned to adapt?" Dima shouts at Anatoli. "Friendship disappeared with our glorious Soviet past. Today there is no friendship, only business relations."

But Anatoli isn't interested in avenging his wife's betrayal; he wants to die but seems to lack the energy to kill himself. So when the killer tells him to deposit a picture of his wife's lover in a post-office box, Anatoli gives the hit man a picture of himself instead, along with the address of his favorite cafe.

On the appointed night, however, the cafe closes early. Realizing he won't die that evening, Anatoli goes on a drunken spree and meets (surprise, surprise) a sassy-but-caring call girl, Lena (Tatiana Krivitskaya). Enlivened by his run-in with this consummate indie-film cliché, Anatoli tries to call off his murder. Failing, he hires a second killer to get rid of the first.

There's a suspenseful chase scene in the second half of the film, but A Friend of the Deceased is much more a philosophical drama than an action film. Director Vyacheslav Krishtofovich portrays a country full of pathos and moral ambiguity, where the chintzy nouveau riche ignore beggar women on the street, former soldiers find work only in the underworld and the line between passivity and criminality is nearly imperceptible. A Friend of the Deceased certainly isn't one of those hit-man-with-a-heart films, but by the end, the two hired killers seem as much victims of circumstance as Anatoli himself.

A Friend of the Deceased (R; 100 min.), directed by Vyacheslav Krishtofovich, written by Andrei Kurkov, photographed by Vilen Kaluta and starring Alexandre Lazarev.

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From the May 28-June 3, 1998 issue of Metro.

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