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Review: Acid


- Young Russian actor Alexander Gorchilin's directorial debut is an accomplished and somewhat freewheeling look at a particular segment of today's Russian youth

Review: Acid

Twenty-six-year-old Russian actor Alexander Gorchilin, best known for his roles in Kirill Serebrennikov's The Student and Leto (The Summer) [+see also:
film review
interview: Ilya Stewart
film profile
, has debuted as a director with the urban youth drama Acid [+see also:
film profile
, which had its international premiere in the Berlinale's Panorama section and went on to triumph at the recent goEast – Festival of Central and Eastern European Film in Wiesbaden last month (see the news).

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True to its title (although its deeper implications will surface later), Acid opens with a veritable bad trip. Twenty-somethings Pete and Sasha (Alexander Kuznetsov and Filipp Avdeev, respectively, both seen in Leto (The Summer)), arrive at their friend Vanya's place to find him naked, drugged out of his mind and hiding behind a toilet seat he has dragged into his bedroom. After stopping him from jumping off the balcony several times, Pete indignantly tells him, “If you want to jump, jump.” And he does.

This is followed by a funeral segment in which Pete lashes out at Vanya's mother for not accepting her son's death and accuses her of not knowing her son. Next, the duo are at a techno party and are approached by the mysterious Vasilisk (Savva Saveliev). He claims he is an artist and wants to take a photo of Sasha's recently circumcised penis.

After an orgy at Vasilisk's place, Pete wakes up in the morning and decides to take a sip of perchloric acid that the artist uses to turn Soviet-era, small-scale busts into "provocative art", and ends up in hospital with severe burns. He will consequently spend the first half of the film with a bandage over his mouth.

Meanwhile, Sasha's meditation-practising, vegan mother returns from Bangladesh to their posh downtown Moscow flat that he shares with his grandma, and in which he hosted Pete for two months. This is the first indication of class in the film. Pete's dad is an influential politician or businessman, but is estranged from his family, who live in much poorer conditions. 

When Pete decides to turn himself in to the police for what he says was the murder of Vanya, the film veers off in more of a descriptive direction, rather than one based on storytelling. Instead of examining Pete's reasons, Gorchilin focuses on Sasha and his interactions with his family, his girlfriend and her younger sister, as well as his attempts to help Pete – who might not actually want to be helped.

Gorchilin and screenwriter Valery Pecheykin build a convincing world of a directionless urban youth, common to modern Western societies. Of course, this is Russia, so the filmmakers make creative use of its contrasts and bizarre ways in which politics, crime, sexuality, drugs, technology and religion overlap, with varying success. But in essence, this is a film about boys without fathers, girls without mothers, and parents who have virtually no connection with their children's reality outside the home environment. Gorchilin rightly makes sure he sticks to the main theme even in the most tangential segments.

While the movie opens with high-octane partying and red-tinged, claustrophobic scenes, it later settles into a more moderate, though sometimes erratic, rhythm, with sober, clear and well-lit widescreen cinematography by Ksenya Sereda. The heterogeneous elements of the set-up and the plot are sometimes underdeveloped, but together, they build a stylistically, if not narratively, consistent whole. Thanks to strong, confident performances by Avdeev and Kuznetsov, the main characters and their motivations feel convincing, even when they are not fully grounded in the script. 

Acid is a co-production by Russia's Studio Slon and Truemen Pictures, with the support of Roskino. The international sales are handled by Paris-based Wide Management.

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