Directed by Darezhan Omirbayev
Early to a recent press screening of this movie, I found myself alone with a trench-clad, ponytailed man in a linty auditorium. After a few minutes, several more solitary guys arrived and scattered among the worn seating. The scene began to remind me of what I imagine the inside of a little theater on 42nd Street would’ve looked like circa ’76—but then the movie started, and we took it in, all the way through to the lees of credits, filing out decorously and undefiled, not even disheveled. Student, which sets the events of Crime & Punishment in present-day Almaty, Kazakhstan, adheres to its source material—boxes are checked—but the spirit! The spirit has departed.
What we can learn from the earthly remains: Almaty’s starting to look like Abu Dhabi, all ungainly glass towers and smooth-faced rich boys driving like dicks. Also, to underscore the tragedy of heartless capitalism, everyone watches documentaries about American presidents. Ali (Nurlan Baitasov), whose lank hair and blank stare presage a school shooting, is a university student attempting to make some extra money working on the set of a film whose director—Omirbaev in a jokey cameo—is committed to escapism. Unfortunately, the jokes end there, as does the shoot: the star, a gangster’s pretty girlfriend, gets miffed and has her guy’s goons end production. Ali returns to the drab basement he rents in the flaking-plaster section of the city, and after attending some Soviet-speechifying-style lectures, which serve as the film’s philosophy, decides to kill a convenience store owner and a customer who happens in. The rest is dream sequences and saintly Sonya.
For all of his desire to do some serious, timely social critiqtuin’, Omirbaev chose to adapt one of the staunchest standards of the Russian canon—and for good reason. The novel is brilliant and feverish, like Raskolnikov. The movie, like Ali, is a slog.
Opens May 31