Russia circa 1999 (perhaps even now?) looks like a dangerous place, a place where men are men and looking at someone the wrong way can result in carnage. At least in Aleksey Uchital’s Break Loose, a high-testosterone tragedy that documents the concepts of family, poverty, and cyclical violence around a Russian Ghetto at the turn of the millennium.
The first and most prominent thing about Uchital’s delve into the grungy atmosphere of Russian casuals is the inherent violence of that circle. Violence is rife and actually egged on in both the professional and non-professional lives of this band of brothers. With a keen sense of the injustice of fighting, Uchital professes at first what could be a romancing, but is ultimately a condemning of Clockwork Orange gang violence. Fighting here receives a sort of make-over, becoming as fierce, deadly, and frankly distressing as it really is through the raw and honest quality to both the choreography of the fight sequences and the shadowy grit of Alexander Demyanenko and Yuri Klimenko’s cinematography. This edgy understanding of colour and camera movement relays the alleys of ghetto life in turgid shadows and switches to circus lights for the garish ensemble of a tacky nightclub. This nightclub play a prominent part as the setting for the gangster, thug, femme fatale love triangle that threatens to rip the young thugs’ hopes.
The film manages not only to drag you into being audience to the uncomfortable overt masculinity of its characters, but also to a kind of cultural cross section of Russian life at a certain time. The revolt of working class being contained and policed by working class men is surely one of the tragic strands of the film alongside the foul solvency of arguably degenerate businessmen. So, from a point of view, there’s an interesting communist dialogue at work here.
The entire cast are fantastic, each successfully adding to a painting of Russian life caught in the throes of a daunting cycle: violent people lead violent lives. This is perhaps the message of a feature doomed from its very beginning to end in tragedy. The further the film’s hero strives against his destiny, the deeper he sinks into its unrelenting grip. His hopes of running away with Vilma Kutavichute’s femme fatale are constantly in the shadow of her gangster boyfriend, his friends hold him to a life of tradition and family values whilst his job tells him to stay in line. All of these forces mount to a breath-taking finale which sees revenge and love clash.
A stunning fast-paced and brutal tragedy set against the backdrop of the Russian millennium. Break Loose is a stirring exploration of the limits of control and what people will do to escape them.
Dir: Aleksey Uchital
Stars: Artyom Bystrov, Vilma Kutaviciut, Aleksey Mantsygin