Cargo 200 -- Aesthetically Pleasing Morbid Thriller

                                What constitutes a horror genre movie? Zombies? Werewolf? Ghosts? or Vampires? These things can establish a good dreamy landscape for horror but they are not always necessary. A horror movie is the one which should infuse the viewer with sheer terror. He should feel that his thoughts were somehow contaminated. It should arouse different kind of emotions. For example, David Croneneberg's movies ("Fly", "Dead Ringers") showcase contamination of human body. Movies like "Psycho", "Deliverance" and "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" shows us group of people venturing into bizarre reality, where they come across nominally civilized men without an ounce of pity. These people represent the darkness of human psyche. These monsters thrive in an unnoticed, contaminated civilization stream. So, if you can accept that corruption and decay of a society is the truest horror, then Aleksey Balabanov's "Cargo 200" (2007) is one of the most terrifying and disturbing film. 

                                Rejected by both the Cannes and Berlin Film Festivals, "Cargo 200" was set in 1984, in the former Soviet Union. Yuri Andropov, the general secretary of the Communist party died in that year and the colossal union of communism is slowly grinding to a halt. A war is going on Afghanistan and the coffins (code named "Cargo 200") are coming every day. It is also the time where university professors lurched in the dark understanding very little, pro-capitalist students gathered at seedy underground clubs and listened to domestic rock and armed security forces continued their ruthless activities in a swaggering manner.


                                The film starts with a conversation between Artem (Leonid Gromov) -- Leningrad professor of Scientific Atheism -- and his colonel brother Mikhail (Yuri Stepanov), in Mikhail's house (in a giant industrial town named 'Leninisk'). The brothers talk about the impending visit to meet their mother, the arrival of military coffins and the decaying society,. The colonel's daughter Liza arrives with her boy friend Valery (Leonid Bichevin). Later that evening, when Valery was partying with Angelika (Agniya Kuznetsova) -- daughter of Leninisk 's communist party secretary -- Artem's car breaks down in an isolated place. Artem sees a shack in the distance and walks over there to ask for some help. On the way, he meets a laconic guy in a blue shirt (Alexey Poluyan), who wordlessly indicates the squalid farmhouse. At that point, we don't know what macabre things this blue-shirt guy is gonna do.

                                The proprietor of the farm house is Alexei, who is also selling illegal grain alcohol. He offers a drink to the professor and coerces him to talk about communism and atheism. Artem belittles Alexei's faith in God. They drink a lot in front of Alexei's stoic wife Tonya. Eventually Alexei's Vietnamese servant Sunka fixes the car. Artem, who couldn't drive his car in the drunken state returns to his brother's house. After Artem's exit, the alcoholic Valery comes with Angelika to buy some Vodka and passes out. Tonya hides Angelika in a shed to protect her from the advances of her husband. However, the evil lurks out of the dark in the form of psychopath, Zhurov (blue-shirt guy). He kills Sunka, violates Angelika with a vodka bottle, hand-cuffs her to the motorcycle side car and takes her to a squalid apartment to meet his half-wit mother. Without getting into details, what follows is a disturbing, albeit, a brilliantly observed degradation of a society.

                                 Director Balabanov's tone blends in moral inscrutability with a cynical black humor. Like Kubrick, he contextualizes the ensuing terror against the political, moral and religious background. Haneke's "Funny Games", where two psychos tortures and threatens a family with ruthless games shows little violence on screen. But the aftermath will make us dumb-stricken. Similarly, "Cargo 200" shows little amount of blood, but the outrageous actions of Zhurov makes us feel that we are watching some kind of deranged performance-art piece. The surrealism and dark irony employed by Balabanov brings us closer to the monstrous dehumanized system. Apart from the excellent narrative, another fantastic feature of the film is the gorgeous cinematography, punctuated by astounding shots of the giant industry complex. 

                                  "Cargo 200" portrays the collapse of a system, which is based on rigid faith in science and rationality. It is a system, which worked incessantly for the betterment of mankind. In the years leading to the breakup of Soviet Union, the oblivious men only worked for the slumbering system. So, the shots of giant industrial complex showcase the impersonal system. The performances are top-notch and the characterizations of rich and unnerving. I particularly liked the characterization of Artem, who is actively encouraged by the Soviet state for his philosophical framework, but doesn't have the guts to act against the sheer force of terror. Artem represents a group of people, present in all kind of systems -- a guy, who almost sees everything but neither feels nor understands. 

                                   The naturalistic style makes "Cargo 200", a very uncomfortable movie to watch, but Balabanov's turbulent truth is compelling and very hard to neglect. Watch it with an open mind. 


Cargo 200 (Gruz 200) -- IMDb


hindustanisakhisaheli said...

hmmmmmm good review

Murtaza Ali Khan said...

Nice review... this movie was recommended to me by National award-winning critic Mr. M. K. Raghavendra a year or so back. After watching the movie I failed to categorize the it. I think the heading that you have chosen "Aesthetically Pleasing Morbid Thriller" is a pretty apt one. Good Job!!!

Arun Kumar said...

@ Aparna Anurag, Thank you.

@Murtaza Ali, I watched this movie after reading about director "Balabanov" in Mr. Raghavendra's book "Director's Cut." That book is a resourceful one for movie lovers.