Having seen it only once (with a mostly spellbound audience at the Chicago International Film Festival in October), I’m still undecided as to whether this philosophical sci-fi epic—directed by Alexander Zeldovich and cowritten by the great postmodern novelist Vladimir Sorokin—is a masterpiece or a gigantic, one-of-a-kind mess. I’m certain, though, that I’ve never seen anything like it.
Set in a parallel universe Moscow in the year 2020, it follows six aristocratic friends who receive the gift of eternal youth, then pursue wild, destructive love affairs and gradually go mad. The film is up-front about its heady ambitions, with characters frequently discussing the nature of happiness and whether enduring romantic love really exists. Yet Zeldovich’s style—an operatic fusion of action filmmaking, melodrama, special effects, and even some elaborate slapstick—is hardly arcane: in fact, it often recalls the Spielberg of A.I. Artificial Intelligence and Minority Report more than anything else. And I haven’t even mentioned that the narrative structure is based on Anna Karenina.