DIR/WRI: Johnny O’Reilly • PRO: Katie Holly, Johnny O’Reilly • DOP: Fedor Lyass • ED: Dermot Diskin, Nico Leunen • DES: Pierre Brayard, Ekaterina Zaletaeva • MUS: Roman Litvinov • CAST: Evgenia Agenorova, Rustam Akhmadeyev, Ieva Andrejevaite
Moscow Never Sleeps, the latest from Russia-situated Irish director Johnny O’Reilly (The Weather Station), showcases the capital terrifically well. While the city is more frequently used in cinema as a backdrop for historical cold-war dramas or as a minor stopping off point in spy thrillers for exotic heft, here it looks authentically bustling and metropolitan. Fedor Lyass’ wide-angled and shimmering cityscape shots, achieved with advanced drone technology, manage to portray the capital in a unique way, uncompromised by any political agendas.
In the vein of Magnolia or Short Cuts, the film features five disparate storylines, each centring upon people of different positions in the Russian social strata – which interlock in unexpected ways. O’Reilly deserves credit for taking typical Russian archetypes – a vodka guzzling old man, a wealthy business man, a hoodlum, a good girl, a bad girl, a babushka – and humanising them. He analyses the reasons why these characters behave in the ways they do, adding more depth to their traditionally clichéd character tropes.
In films broken up into segments, unevenness is common. In Moscow Never Sleeps, for every engaging tale – an elderly celebrity (Yuriy Stoyanov) kidnapped by adoring fans or a wealthy businessman (Aleksei Serebryakov, Leviathan) stomped out by bureaucracy (both of which feel incredibly timely), there is a less interesting one – which causes the film to lag. In regards to the latter, O’Reilly gets too bogged down in stories regarding love-affairs and familial bonds which don’t possess as much inventiveness as the way he approaches his characters.
That said, Moscow Never Sleeps zips by at a rollicking pace, meaning the less engaging stories don’t tend to drag on for too long. It’s only 95 minutes in length, which is incredible given how much the film covers, both city and society wise. Also, this brevity is a breath of fresh air given how long movies featuring intertwining stories tend to be. It’s worth noting that O’Reilly handles the obligatory big moments in films like this, which serve to link the major characters together, with panache, e.g. a flashy firework display, ignited to celebrate Moscow’s “City Day”.
Overall, as a love-letter to the Russian capital, the movie succeeds.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Moscow Never Sleeps is released 11th November 2016