Russia could celebrate a Ponzi scheme con artist as a national hero. It’s a complicated place. Transparently based on Sergei Mavrodi, the
Russian Madoff, a bizarre episode of post-Soviet economic history is only
slightly exaggerated in Eldar Salavatov’s Pyrammmid
screens during the 2012 Brooklyn Film Festival.
dodgy financial empire was also known as MMM and its commercials promising
forty percent returns on investment were a constant presence on Russian
television during its heyday. Many
Russians blamed its inevitable collapse on the government thanks to conspiracy
theories no doubt nurtured by Mavrodi.
However, the fictional Sergey Mamontov’s MMM really is the target of the
corrupt national government and their oligarchic allies. Understand Mamontov is no mere
charlatan. He is scamming all that money
in order to preserve Russian ownership of the old state-owned enterprises being
sold to the well-connected at fire-sale prices through the dubious
privatization process. Well, that’s Pyrammmid’s story and its sticking to
gets quite complicated though. Raking in
cash, Mamontov plans a fatal run on his major banking rival, while getting
involved in weird sidelines, like buying the major Russian beauty pageant. Most of those distractions are the brainchild
of maverick mathematician Anton who loses sight of the big picture. Frankly, the film is a bit overstuffed with
plot, sacrificing the dead weight of transitions to fit it all in. As a result, audiences watching it in
subtitles really have to keep on their toes.
Pyrammmid is based on an unpublished
manuscript by Mavrodi, which must be considered either a novel or a memoir,
depending on whether or not you happen to be Sergei Mavrodi. Ideologically, it is a bit of a head-scratcher,
unambiguously lionizing exactly the sort of financial plunderer the current
regime made its name inveighing against.
Still, the symbolic significance of Mamontov’s choice of car is hard to
miss: a vintage Soviet Chaika sedan. In
fact, the film has nothing to say regarding the lack of consequences faced by
the oppressive former Communist hardliners.
Indeed, that refusal to account for the past has led the country
precisely where it is now. The presence
of Putin favorite Nikita Mikhalkov’s son Artyom and daughter Anna Mikhalkova in
the ensemble cast further muddies the waters.
played more traditionally action-oriented protagonists in previous films (such
as the Da Vinci Code-ish Golden Mean), Alexey Serebryakov is
surprisingly convincing as the owlish Mamontov (those specs are another Mavrodi
trademark). Unfortunately, he is largely
surrounded by stock characters existing simply to serve the plot, like Gutov
the shifty lawyer and Vera the ambitious muckraking photojournalist.
the fact that this movie exists is downright mind-blowing. Imagine a slick, big budget American film
positioning Bernie Madoff as a misunderstood hero, whom we should give good
money to, for the sake of the country.
That is about how Pyrammmid shakes
out. It is a fast-moving big-canvas
conspiracy thriller that does not always make a whole lot of sense. Yet, it is more stylistically grounded than
the thematically related Generation P. Flawed but fascinating for Russia watchers,
it screens again this Wednesday (5/6) at IndieScreen as part of this year’s
Brooklyn Film Festival.
Labels: BFF '12, Russian Cinema, Sergei Mavrodi