THE MOVIE Whatever happened to Pavel Lounguine? In the early 1990s, this Russian writer/director came out with two extremely strong features. His excoriating 1992 Russian skinhead drama Luna Park snaked through scant American art house theaters shortly after Geoffrey Wright's considerably more sophisticated skin flick, Romper Stomper. (Talk about where is he now: Wright has, in Stomper, the criminally never released in the U.S. Metal Skin [fans of '70s gearhead movies and Alex Cox flicks should seek out the DVD, like, yesterday], and his 2006 Macbeth update to contemporary Melbourne gangs, three of the more bulletproof modest-budget independents in Australian cinema.) Park follows a body-building young anti-Semite confronting his own ancestry, a personal journey that slightly mirrored Russia's own identity search in the early 1990s.
Lounguine explored that political metaphor better in his 1990 debut, Taxi Blues, which earned him the Best Director Award at Cannes that year and was recently released on DVD. A failed buddy flick, Taxi documents the unlikely pairing of Moscow cab driver Shlykov (Pyotr Zaychenko) with freewheeling saxophonist Lyosha (Pyotr Mamonov). Lounguine plops them together casually, with Lyosha one of a plastered group of men and women looking to keep the party going one Moscow night as Shlykov drives them around. People peel off at various stops, leaving Lyosha alone with Shlykov and a high fare--which the sax man purposely neglects to pay.
Shlykov isn't so easily stiffed. A muscularly thick man who works out by easily--and repeatedly--lifting what looks like a manhole cover the size of a Buick, Shlykov hunts the stork-thin, insouciant, and Jewish Lyosha down at a nightclub and demands his fare, taking the saxophone as collateral. Being broke isn't new to Lyosha, but not being able to play to earn some cash or at least a drink is. So Shlykov forces Lyosha into a cruel servitude to work off the debt, and arrangement that puts Lyosha in Shlykov's life almost around the clock. The two men don't bond, but do begin to recognize their shared crummy circumstances.
THE DISC Aside from the clumsy theatrical trailer, this DVD release of this gritty time capsule of a movie has extra going for it.