March 08, 2021
A fictional standup confronts his limits in this intriguing time capsule of 1980s Soviet history
The Humorist review – a comedian crumbles as the USSR collapses
It’s 1984: the USSR is on the verge of collapse, and so is Boris Arkadiev (Aleksey Agranovich), a fictional standup who has enormous mainstream success but crumbles under bouts of insecurities. A failed novelist, Boris now tours the country with a banal routine about … a naughty monkey. The KGB approves and the audience roars with laughter, but Boris merely simmers with apathy.
Boris’s problems lie in his political spinelessness. His Friends chastise him: Simon (Semyon Steinberg), an outspoken writer, mourns Boris’ idealistic literary past; Max (Yuri Kolokolnikov), an Actor enamoured with American culture, concludes that the comedian should defect. Adding to the horrors, Boris’ teenage son writes anti-communist rock tunes in a bedroom plastered with posters of David Bowie and T Rex. This failure to communicate reaches a surreal peak when Boris is summoned to perform his routine to a Russian astronaut in space. In one long restless take, Boris paces around a sparsely furnished bunker and breathlessly tells the same old jokes, only for the astronaut to tell him to stop. He has had enough. Boris has, too.
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