Balabanov was, if not a genius, then very close to that. And the role of Sergei Selyanov, not only a producer, but also in fact a creative co-author of the director, is extremely important in his recognition. It is noteworthy that in Russian cinema Balabanov is dedicated to one of the best films of zero – a chic film “Fool” by Yuri Bykov. This is how the Russian hero evolved – from the killer Danila Bagrov, who solves problems with weapons in his hands, in a sweater for 40 rubles, to the naive plumber Nikitin, powerless against the bureaucracy.
Prior to “Brother”, Balabanov made a fancy, modernist film, interesting mainly to aesthetes. The new tape was supposed to be made quickly. “Brother” was filmed for 31 days, many actors worked either for free or for a penny, but an absolutely cult movie was born, which will be quoted and reviewed for a very long time. This is what happens in art – and a masterpiece is usually born unintentionally: the legendary Yesterday, for example, came to Paul McCartney in a dream, in between, and the other “Beatles” doubted whether to include the song in the album. As Akhmatova wrote: “If you only knew what rubbish poems grow from…”
It is extremely important to understand the context, the time in which “Brother” appeared. It was 1997. Yeltsin won the infamous election. The first Chechen war ended with the defeatist Khasavyurt Accords. Checkered trunks flashed across the country and bandits in crimson jackets rode on the “geldings”. “Brother” perfectly conveyed the spirit of that time. As in the books of Flaubert and Dickens, one can study France and England of different epochs, so Balabanov captured the 90s, capturing their very essence. And every character here is a symbol, both realistic and metaphysical. It’s like a German homeless man, Hoffmann, who is both a man of God and a Soviet intellectual who did not fit into the new wonderful world of brats and consumption.
“Brother” is a film that basically spits on the world of consumption, corporate values and the power of money. It literally screams that Russia cannot and should not live by the precepts of wild, vulgar capitalism. Therefore, at the end of the first film, Danila distributes money, and at the end of the second, the hockey player he helped grimaces contemptuously when he does not receive the full amount. Well, the culmination of this civilizational, if you will, conflict is the famous monologue: “Tell me an American: what is power? ..”
Between the two “Brothers” – a break of three years. “Brother” was released in 1997, “Brother-2” – in 2000. But how many different epochs are imprinted in them! They are made, intentionally made, in different colors (the first – in golden tones), in different scenery. And the second part is more lubochny, more superheroic, which again is not accidental. This is the very beginning, the birth of a new petrodollar world. The polished banker Belkin, brilliantly played by Makovetsky, replaced the bandit Krugly. And the hero gets access to celebrities like Irina Saltykova, but it does not make him happy. After all, everything around is not real, synthetic. “One word – Romanian!”
In both the first and second stories of Danila, there is a war going on in the background in Chechnya. The character played by Sergei Bodrov is a man of war. He has returned from Chechnya and is now trying to find himself in a big city, from one war to another. A lost man, traumatized, infantile, but clearing the way for a step forward. In this he is helped by military logic: there are his own, there are others – protect your own, that’s all, actually. Hence the phrases in the style of “Russians do not give up”, “you are my brother” and the same, deliberately childish, poem about the homeland “I learned that I have a huge family …”
Bagrov’s character came to fight. But this is not a war for the sake of war, but a war for the future. After all, look what happened then: Russian cinema, the literature of the 90’s endlessly pedaled the theme of “you can’t live like this.” Hundreds of “creators” have told – and continue to tell – that, as in Russia, living is disgusting, disgusting, that it is necessary to repent, and in general it is better to give up. At first glance, Balabanov also picks up this game. And in “Brother”, presented at the Cannes Film Festival (along with the masterpieces “Strange Games” by Haneke, by the way), the viewer is accustomed to seeing the damned Russia – poor, debauched, thieving, cruel, drunk. This, in general, is also “about freaks and people”, but in a modern frame.
However, Bagrov rebels against this situation. And he rebels not even on his own behalf, but on behalf of the Russian people, humiliated and insulted. He tries to correct the injustice around him, following the principles that are known to everyone from childhood. Together with the innate intelligence of Sergei Bodrov, his MSU appearance looks irresistible. His hero Danila Bagrov shows that it is necessary to live and live in Russia. “You’re in vain, I love my homeland,” he told the immigrant taxi driver, who thought he had another American dream hunter in front of him. Danila is not ashamed to be Russian – and he is not ashamed to love his homeland, but very gratifying.
As a result, a whole generation of young people has their own Russian hero, whose name becomes commonplace for the first time in recent Russian history. This hero appears in a generation that grew up in films with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, whose characters killed Russians on screen. One Rambo is worth it! But now everything has changed. “Soon your America kirdyk!” – Danilo said in the first film, and in the second he doubtedly went to America to do justice. Yes, this guy is not holy, he sometimes kills innocents (remember the deliberately stylized computer shooter shooting in the club), but only such, fortunately or unfortunately, and can be a new hero. Danila Bagrov embodies the Russian revolt – ruthless, but not meaningless. He, in fact, defends the right to be himself, the right to be Russian.
Pavel Lungin will say that Bodrov’s hero is an angel of social revenge who came to deal with the rich, which resonated with the aspirations and moods of the audience. This understanding is largely true, but it is incomplete. Danila Bagrov is an angel of Russian retribution, one who does justice by repaying debts and punishing those who need to be punished. And his victims are all those who tormented Russia and the people when they wrote on the doors of houses and apartments: “Russians, get out!” Danila takes revenge for the humiliated two Chechen wars, the bombing of Belgrade, the “Bush legs”, the collapse of the country and poverty. It is not just a desire for social revenge – it is a demand for supreme justice. In part, this frustration and, as a consequence, the thirst for revenge are concentrated in the monologues of two taxi drivers, one from Moscow and one from New York: “And where is your homeland, son?! ..”
In The Brothers, Balabanov and Selyanov had the courage to articulate from the screen what was said with pain and indignation in every kitchen. They brought to the camera Russian fears, hopes and archetypes, somewhere gloomy, rude, and somewhere, on the contrary, naive, tender. Yes, just like the movies “Brother” and “Brother 2” – not the greatest films. But the visual range does not play a key role here – the spirit is primary. The dilogy of Balabanov and Selyanov is, first of all, a powerful statement, political, socio-cultural and, of course, national. This is really a folk movie.
“Brother” and “Brother-2” are a kind of Russian crusade for justice. Later, Vladimir Putin will say that it is the desire for justice that distinguishes Russians from others. And every year this desire will only grow and turn into a demand for truth. And let me remind you that the truth in the Russian tradition is understood as truth and justice. The search for this truth – as truth and as justice – is a truly Russian way. Anyone else doesn’t make sense. And in this context, Balabanov’s dilogy “Brother” is not only a cult film, but also a prologue to a much bigger story that we have yet to write.