Directed by Aleksey Balabanov, Brother [Браt] is a gritty cult-film from 1997 that exemplifies Russian gangster life in the 1990s. The film is filled with catchy Russian rock music, both diegetic and not, with a central focus on our calculating main character who is a traditional anti-hero, Danila Bagrov (Sergey Bodrov). What makes Brother [Браt] a special experience is the main character, and the unique take on city life and criminality. Our character is consumed into a criminal lifestyle, but also searches for his own happiness in a pursuit that seems futile at the end of his stay in St. Petersburg. Danil’s savior mentality ends in the realization that his money does not bring the people he tries to save closer to him in his own version of happiness.
From the very first moment we meet Danila Bagrov (Sergey Bodrov), we are aware that this is a unique and complex character. As soon as he is nearly thrown in jail after walking onto a music-video set, disrupting the Nautilus Pompilus filming process, and fighting the film crew, we know his complexity comes from calculating, and calm demeanor first shown as he is interrogated by the police. The retaliation against the film crew foreshadows the criminality in the film, with Danila as a member of a society plagued with little options but the militsya or a criminal life. Ironically, as his mother scolds him with pictures of his balding older brother, we soon discover the brother is a career criminal. Finally, Danila ventures to St. Petersburg in search of his more successful brother, Viktor (Viktor Sukhorukov), in the big city. However, the city is, as the German later calls it, an “evil force” which consumes our character into a criminal lifestyle, proving to be incapable of defeating Danila in the end, but heavily impacting his future.
Our main character continues to be set apart from a typical criminal because he commits many actions that are selfless, such as saving the German from an extortionist, making the Chechens pay their bus ticket fine, and giving money to various characters. These selfless actions make Danila a round character, and most of what happens off-screen adds to his character appeal. It seems that throughout the film the audience is supposed to interpret Danila’s lies, such as the reoccurring reference to being a desk clerk in the military. These lies culminate to an unpredictable ending, when he lies to a truck driver, but drops his sawed-off shotgun in front of him. The drop of the sawed-off gives us a look into Danila’s future as a criminal in Moscow, which can be assumed as a moment where his lies are revealing themselves. Danila has effectively defeated St. Petersburg and has taken his brother’s plan of moving his criminal enterprise to Moscow.
The relationship of each character is another important takeaway that makes the film special. First, the German seems to be a character that fully challenges Danila with his moral compass, he is not afraid to interject with an opinion. One of German’s most important lines in the film is, “What good for a Russian kills the German,” which is said in response to Danila’s offer of money. This could imply that the German refuses because of the thought of where the money came from, and the lifestyle that so many become enamored with in a city, and it leaves Danila to ponder his actions. The character Kat (Mariya Zhukova) is one with a questionable moral compass, who shows Danil the street-culture, and party scene. The ending with Kat in the McDonald’s confirms that Danila is alone, with Kat only interested in his money, which is opposite of the German, and could represent the bleed over from the United States’ invading free market corporations. Sveta (Svetlana Pismichenko) is a character who chooses to be passive at the end of the film, choosing to stay with an abusive husband, and telling Danila she doesn’t love him. This seems to first solidify the criminal individualism in the film, and the cities power over the culture. Finally, the most obvious character to show the “criminal individualism” is Viktor, his brother, who lies to Danila, but is sparred from his wrath towards the end. Viktor is a character who sacrifices family to his criminal dealings, even though he offers Danil a position in his enterprise. These characters all simultaneously prove to Danial his criminal life in St. Petersburg cannot continue.
Although Brother [Браt] might seem like an average crime or neo-noir film set in Russia, the film creates an atmosphere surpassing its western counterparts with a unique reliance on Russian rock music and a cityscape that is marked with crime, and poverty in the 1990s. Considering Bodrov’s portrayal of Danila as elemental in the film, and the many moments that bring complexity to each character, it is not surprising that this film achieved cult-classic status, quickly having fans and critics alike requesting a sequel. The ending shootout scene with Danila’s sawed-off shotgun will forever be cemented in modern cinema for me.
3.5 stars out of 5.
— Christian Mietus, Blog Editor
Christian Mietus’ Bio:
Christian is a Junior at Lewis University who is an English major and a minor in Film Studies and Russian Language and Culture. In 2019, he received the “Dr. Stephany Schlachter Excellence in Undergraduate Scholarship Award” for his collaborative piece “Assimilation through Sound.” Additionally, his poem “The Japanese Photography is Covered in Dust” is forthcoming from City Brink Magazine. In his free time, he appreciates and dissects cinema as well as consistently rating and reviewing it. Some of his favorite directors are Andrei Tarkovsky, John Cassavettes, Ingmar Bergman, and Kenji Mitzoguchi. He also appreciates different art forms, such as music and literature. Christian hopes to continue expanding his skills as a writer and to encourage others to do so as well. He writes about film for the JFR blog, so check out Christian’s Cinematic Syntax.