Outskirts

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Outskirts

A peculiar and fascinating mixture of deadpan comedy, postmodern revenge fantasy, and retro-'30s Soviet propaganda film, Petr Lutsik's Outskirts journeys through the contemporary Russian landscape as it might have been viewed by early-20th-century peasants or a Death Wish-era Charles Bronson. The collision of styles and messages makes it hard to decipher Lutsik's intentions at any given point, but the confusion adds depth and off-kilter humor to his critique of newly capitalist Russia and the fresh round of injustices visited upon the common man. Opening with shots of stakes being pounded into the barren ground, the titles note that the centuries-old farmland owned by a collective of villagers has been sold off to a faceless big-city oil company. In what appears at first to be a quixotic mission, three roughneck locals take up arms and set out to avenge the destruction of their way of life by torturing and killing the individuals responsible for selling them out. As they methodically dispatch their victims, the action moves gradually toward the modern world, marching from arid plains to small villages to industrialized cities. In the process, the men begin to look more and more like comic anachronisms, so out-of-place in the new Russia that their appearance is often greeted by hearty bouts of laughter. With its ironic view of history, straight-faced humor, and grainy black-and-white cinematography, Outskirts has drawn comparisons to Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man, but its meanings are far more obscure and elusive to Westerners. It's hard to know, for example, whether the villagers are stock proletariat heroes, caricatured buffoons, or both. When one holds the severed head of a sniper over his mortally wounded comrade and says, "May it make you happy before you die," it seems like Grand Guignol comedy, but it could just as well be a proud show of brutish, Peckinpah-style masculinity. That elements of hard realism and cartoonish fantasy can co-exist in the same scene seems appropriate to Lutsik's skewed and highly original universe, which effectively turns Russia's past and present inside out.