Previously at the ICA - Films

Alexey Balabanov, The Stoker, 2010

The Stoker

25 May 20131 Jun 2013

Set in the mid 1990s outside St Petersburg, The Stoker tells the story of an ethnic Yakut, Major Skryabin, a shell-shocked veteran of the Afghan-Soviet War, who works as a stoker. Living in the incinerator room, the Major shovels coal all day, and fills his spare time writing a novel about a Russian criminal sent into exile in Yakutia in the XIX century, whilst turning a blind eye to his former military comrade-turned-hitman, the Sergeant, who arrives to dispose of bodies. But even our compliant stoker has his limits...

Alexey Balabanov, well known (and, it would have to be said, not universally loved) at home for a body of work of savage and bitter allegory for Russia's post-Soviet social decay and political complacency, has not had much exposure beyond the festival circuit - his films have perhaps been too rooted in its nation's psyche to really be appreciated elsewhere - but we're in much more universal territory with The Stoker, a fascinating, atmospheric, stylistic tour-de-force of idiosyncratic filmmaking. This harsh, disturbing, minimalist, relentlessly evenly-paced, pitch-black comedy/drama gradually and steadily assumes considerable power, as Balabanov deftly teases our expectations, most notably, perhaps, with an ironic jaunty Latin-inflected, electro-folk score which works to perfection. Be warned: you will be whistling it for weeks! 

'The Stoker is as good as some of the best Coen films. It has their crisp way with an image, their gentle grotesque, their sharp pen-portraiture of larger than life people' - Mark Cousins

The Stoker, dir. Alexey Balabanov, Russia 2010, 87 mins, Russian with English subtitles, cert. 15

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