Packed like a cannon with all manner of satiric shrapnel, hubbub, terror, brio and Surrealist invention, Alexei German Sr.’s fabled, never-released-here 1998 monstrosity Khrustaliov, My Car! was only the fifth film the neglected Russian master made in 40 years, but if you were to distill out his films into character threads, narrative secrets and visual energy, you’d have the equivalent of a busy Soderbergh-sized oeuvre. Absurdist to the point of derangement and inhabited like a madhouse, the film touches down, like all of German’s, as a Soviet memory, of 1953 on the eve of Stalin’s death, and a bustling snow-covered village where the anti-Jewish purges are ongoing, and where a livin’-large Red Army general (Yuri Tsurilo) becomes targeted for inevitable Gulag exile.
That barely covers a fraction of this furious cataract, which attracts comparisons to everyone from Fellini to Goya to Kusturica to Tati, all at once in a pig pile, but is in fact a pressurized Rubicon of German’s characteristic voice and style, which loves chaos and density and exploding life more than story per se. Nobody has ever evoked crowded interior spaces as lustily or conjured a world outside the frame as vividly, and his capture of winter-time (gorgeously shot on, it seems, black-&-white stock left out in the snow for 40 years) is unrivaled. This is not a film where merely two or three things are happening at once. But almost any description lets Khrustaliov down—it’s a decidedly unsober masterpiece, tough to follow, riven with Dadaist dialogue, fuming with elan, and although it’s unmistakably a slashing portrait of life in the asylum of Stalin’s USSR, it’s also a torrential experience with its own codes and overwhelming sense of unseen catastrophe.