413) Perestroika (2009) Dir: Slava Tsukerman Date Released: March 2009 Date Seen: November 23, 2009 Rating: 4/5
Everything worth admiring about Slava Tsukerman's rigorously intellectual style of filmmaking is on display in Perestroika. Perestroika is Tsukerman's semi-autobiographical story about Sasha (Sam Robards), an alienated, middle-aged Russian astrophysicist who flees Russia only to return 17 years later during "perestroika," or the period of restructuring. Tsukerman, ever an aggressive and jubilant rhetorician, infuses Greenberg's cerebral and emotional discombobulation into the film's aesthetic. The divide between the polar opposites of Greenberg's identity--Russia and America, past and present--is muddled by Tsukerman's infrequent use of flagrantly obvious green-screen backdrops and post-dubbed voices. Relative as it is, Greenberg's sense of time is out of joint, making his journey back to Russia not a quest to see a familiar face or a choice landmark but rather to see if anything has really changed.
Though he ultimately, and dubiously I might add, finds that something in the youthful unpredictability of the daughter of one of his old flames, the amorality of that pairing is unimportant to Tsukerman. Ever a dabbler, he's more interested in confronting the viewer with a cacophonous representation of the inescapable and inherently confrontational nature of change. In other words: he's as garishly confrontational here as he was in his seminal work of counter-culture speculative fiction Liquid Sky (1982) and it suits the story very well. Heavy-handed leitmotifs do not ease our transition into the film's plot but rather demand that we share in Greenberg's discomfort. In fact, we're never allowed to settle down for very long before some other aspect of Greenberg's environment confronts us with the audaciously unsettling fact that nothing's quite right and there's no permanent solution to anyone's problems in sight. In that way, Tsukerman's created one of the more insistent films of the year without attempting to coddle the audience once. Perestroika's also confirms that he hasn't allowed his garish sense of humor to become diluted over the years, making another good case for why he's probably one of the only filmmakers capable of making a good film adaptation of a Pynchon novel.