Russian director whose films pulled no punches




25-2-1959 - 18-5-2013

Aleksei Balabanov, a Russian

director whose films fused grisly violence, sardonic humor and rock music to convey a darkly compelling vision of his chaotic society after communism's

collapse, has died near

St Petersburg. He was 54.

Lenfilm Studios said the cause was a heart attack, the Interfax news agency reported.

In 16 films, Balabanov offered a world of hitmen, shamelessly

corrupt officials and corpses upon corpses in a cinematic pastiche reminiscent of the work of Quentin Tarantino in artistic achievement and exuberantly brash taste. In his 2005 film Blind Man's Bluff, a pair of hitmen steal five kilograms of heroin from their boss during Russia's "Wild West" 1990s, when anything-goes-capitalism was sweeping away communism. They then exchange their leather jackets for suits and jobs in the Kremlin bureaucracy.

In Brother (1997), a man hires his brother as a contract killer whose only loyalty is to his favourite rock group. Stoker (2010) tells of a brain-damaged war veteran who takes care of a factory's furnace. Mobsters keep showing up to use it to dispose of bodies.

"The films of Aleksei Balabanov are a collective portrait of our

country at its most dramatic time in history," Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev wrote on Facebook after the director's death.

Balabanov's movies developed a robust cult

following in Russia and won prizes there. They were shown abroad in art houses and at film


Mikhail Trofimenkov, a film critic for the Russian newspaper

Kommersant, called Balabanov "the best Russian film director of the past two decades".

Aleksei Oktyabrinovich Balabanov was born on February 25, 1959, in Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg), near the border of Europe and Asia in the Ural Mountains. He graduated from Gorky Teachers' Training University with a degree in foreign languages in 1981, then served in the Soviet army as a translator. After his discharge, he was an assistant director at the Sverdlovsk film studio. In 1990, he completed a course of advanced study in film.

Wars were a major theme for Balabanov. His 2002 film, War, is set in Chechnya, the scene of two

Russian conflicts since 1994.

The title of his 2007 film, Cargo 200, was taken from the Soviet army code for bodies of slain Soviet

soldiers. It unfolds in late 1984,

during Russia's war in Afghanistan, and conjures a political and moral landscape drowning in corruption and black-market vodka. A final scene shows the heroine naked and cuffed to a bed, surrounded by three fly-gathering corpses, one of them her fiance.

Cargo 200 is a comment on the social decay that would lead to the Soviet Union's fall. "Balabanov is by nature as an artist a radical conservative, a contradictory but extremely productive combination," the

Russian film critic Andrei Plakhov wrote. "It forces us to compare him to Dostoyevsky or John Ford, since for Balabanov what is important is not the social universe of discourse but the moral one."

Balabanov is survived by his wife, Nadezhda Vasilyeva, a costume designer, and two sons.

Before his death, he was

planning to make a film on Stalin, portraying him as a godfather of crime.

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