100 minutes | Rated: R
In Ukrainian with English subtitles
Opened: Friday, May 15, 1998
Directed by Vyacheslav Krishtofovich

Starring Alexandre Lazarev, Tatiana Krivitskaa, Eugen Pachin, Constantin Kostychin, Elena Korikova, Angelika Nevolina, Sergiy Romanyuk

Suicidal Ukrainian symbolizes lost kindness in post-communist Kiev

I thought "A Friend of the Deceased" was going to be a comedy. The concept sounded funny to me.

A suicidal Ukrainian who's having a hard time coping with raging capitalism sends a photo of himself and a bundle of money to a hit man, then changes his mind and spend the rest of the picture on the run.

I'm thinking Peter Sellers. I'm thinking Roberto Benigni. I'm settled in for giggles and guffaws as the bumbling fellow stays one step ahead of the assassin.

Oops. Not a comedy.

I'm telling you this because having to change mind sets in the middle of this picture might have clouded my judgment and I thought you out to know that outright.

"A Friend of the Deceased" is, in fact, a symbolic, socio-political drama about the rapidly-changing face of the former Soviet Union.

Anatoni (Alexandre Lazarev), the suicidal hero, is an unemployed former government translator who is finding it difficult to keep up with hastily Westernizing Kiev.

His once warm and altruistic countrymen have turned cold and callous, worshipping at the alter of the almighty buck with little regard for each other.

A simple man with no particular thirst for wealth, Anatoni tries to make ends meet with under-paid translation jobs a couple times a week. Meanwhile, his beautiful, estranged wife seems to have slept her way to the middle of a rising company. She comes home each day dressed in fine clothes, carrying a cell phone and not bothering to hide her affair with her boss. Then one day she doesn't come home at all.

In the throes of depression, but with no stomach for traditional suicide, he uses his last few American dollars to arrange a hit on himself, which he quickly regrets after meeting a pixish prostitute who seems to be the last person in Anatoni's world who values him at all.

"A Friend of the Deceased" is director Vyacheslav Krishtofovich's eulogy to the dying brotherhood that the communist system brought out in the common man.

While he shows parts of Kiev blossoming under the onset of free trade -- some locations are clearly prospering and seem as quaint and cobblestony as any idyllic village in Europe -- he sees his country's new freedom being trampled by profiteers.

The angular, handsome and brooding Lazarev has a wonderfully expressive face that personalized this message. He seems to bear the tread marks of the changing Russian economy. Yet for all its depth, the picture identifies too heavily with the lethargic Anatoni -- a burden that drags on the story like an anchor.

"A Friend of the Deceased" is peppered with tasty ironies that offer moments of hope that the film might pick up (the hooker marries a john for money, Anatoni get involved with his assassin's wife). But the story is always encumbered by the hero's lack of motivation, and the results, however poignant, are too listless to be engaging.

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