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MOSCOW NEVER SLEEPS (2015) review

October 13, 2017

moscowneverrussia

 

written by: Johnny O’Reilly
produced by: Katie Holly and Johnny O’Reily
directed by: Johnny O’Reilly
rated: not rated
runtime: 100 min.
U.S. release date: October 13, 2017 thru October 19, 2017 (Gene Siskel Film Center, Chicago, IL)

 

It may seem odd that Irish-born writer/director Johnny O’Reilly has made a film that acutely epitomizes life in contemporary Moscow, but this is a guy who studied Russian in college and worked as a journalist in Russia and Ireland before embarking on filmmaking. The multi-narrative drama “Moscow Never Sleeps” is his second feature-length film and in its marketing it’s being compared to “Short Cuts”, “Crash” and “Magnolia”, like just about every other film with intersecting characters and storylines often are. O’Reilly has made a sprawling and somber tale that finds its titular sleepless city sitting front and center, just as imperative to the five storylines that bleed into each other. It’s an energetic, relatable and contemplative film that reminds us that no matter what city we reside in, no matter our place in life, there are people going through what we’re experiencing.

The film wastes no time on expositions, getting right into introductions as we learn who we will follow and how they cross over into each other’s lives, whether or not they’re aware of it. An ailing television actor Valeriy (Yuriy Stoyanov) refuses to stay hospitalized, despite pleading from his wife and mistress  and runs into a quartet of street hooligans who recognize him and forcefully kidnap him at gunpoint.

 

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Another plot involves an oligarch executive named Anton (Alexey Serebriakov, “Leviathan”), who finds his office place raided by powerful bureaucrats, forcing him to possibly leave for New York City. He’s dating a younger woman, Katya (Eugenia Khirivskaya), an aspiring singer, who is secretly struggling with feelings she has for both Anton and a ex-lover, Ilya (Oleg Dolin), who is still pursuing her. Another storyline involves two half-sisters, the withdrawn Lera (Anastasia Shalonko) and the brazen Kseniya (Lyubov Aksyonova), both of whom are living under the same roof, but soon get involve in a sordid situation late at night, and are forced to fend for themselves. Finally, there’s also the story of a young man wrestling with his grandmother being sent to a crowded assisted living complex.

All of these storylines take place throughout the course of one day in Moscow. O’Reilly utilizes areas of the city we’re not used to seeing, away from landmark buildings and familiar sites and into the homes and workplaces of these characters, providing viewers with opportunities to relate to each character’s plight. Whether or not we agree with their behavior or the decisions they make isn’t the point. It’s simply to remind us that the struggles of love, family and livelihood are universal.

 

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O’Reilly is clearly fascinated by human behavior and the ramifications of the actions and reactions of the characters who populate “Moscow Never Sleeps”. Each character has their own pathos and pain – whether they’re dealing a threat to their career or facing the twilight of their own mortality – and the combination of the writer/director’s characterizations and the actor’s portraying the characters offer an authenticity to real emotions and conflicts. Throughout the film, each of his characters struggle with love and ambition in some form or another. As expected, poor decisions are made at times, resulting in some harrowing situations, while other times hard decisions must be made that impact the future of loved ones.

The visual style and camera work of the film stands out, often including aerial shots of Moscow’s teeming streets as well as capturing images of buildings from mid-air. In preparation for the film, O’Reilly got together with a group of consultants from the Russian military, who wound up rigging a civilian drone so that it could fly with extreme balance, equipped with the ability to capture smooth imagery resulting in beautiful panoramic aerial footage. The widescreen photography of cinematographer Fedor Lyass (who shot “Hardcore Henry” in the same year) is often quite breathtaking, which sets “Moscow Never Sleeps” apart from the many films it will inevitably be compared to.

 

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RATING: ***

 

 

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