EASTERN PROMISES , David Cronenberg (2007)
Can’t believe I haven’t talked about this movie here yet, this is unacceptable! I’ve seen this film at least 4 times and reckon it’s one of my favorite ones of the past decade. Let’s put some remedy to such mistake.
Back in 2005, with A History of Violence, David Cronenberg started the so called Trilogy of Violence, which is still unfinished, and don’t think with the upcoming A Dangerous Method, comes to an end either.
Anyway, Eastern Promises is no doubt another example of violence, but this time from a perspective of the Russian mob in London nowadays, settled for at least 10-12 years and becoming powerful and very dangerous.
The starting point of the story is the death of a young Jane Doe, named Tatiana, at a maternity ward, by giving birth to her baby girl, in unfortunate and extreme circumstances.
The midwife who last assisted her, Anna (Naomi Watts), finds a diary written in Russian in her hand bag, and is determined to find any relatives so the newborn will escape from the bureaucratic adoption procedures.
Despite her Russian roots, she can’t read the diary, plus her uncle Stepan does not agree to nose at dead people personal values. By chance, she finds a card from a restaurant named Trans-Siberian, so she decides to pay a visit, hoping someone can give her some information about the teenager or at least, get some help to translate the diary.
Once there, she will meet the friendly owner of the place, Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), who suggests her to come back the following day, so he can help her. However, behind the amiable mask of a tender old man, the head of one of the most dangerous Russian mafia families, Vory V Zakone.
Problems will start the moment she hands him a copy of the diary, in which both Semyon and his careless and shallow son, Kirill (Vincent Cassel) are named and accused of very terrible things. This little spot in his business is something to be vanished easily, but what nobody takes into account is the driver, Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen), very close to Kirill, and acquainted with everything happening, and another two-face character.
Last time I watched Eastern Promises was 4 days ago, with my best friend. First thing she told me was that she hadn’t seen it before for being too sensitive to violent scenes, getting especially anxious when raping involved. Didn’t think much when I reckoned it wasn’t so violent, remembering only the scene at the public sauna. Don’t want to spoil anything, but let me tell you THAT is one of the best moments I’ve ever seen in a movie, if you’ve never seen this movie before, remember these two main adjectives: hard and raw.
Anyway, first scene and I was thinking “Oh My God! This is going to be a mistake I’ll remember for years”. Fortunately, I’ve been training my friend somehow, and she enjoyed the film a lot.
I could praise this film nonstop, there are many aspects to be highlighted I don’t know which one to start with.
There are two main plots which at some point they both meet, but not completely. And which one is more relevant? On one hand the story of Tatiana and her daughter Christina, christened by Anna, the nurse. It works as the perfect introduction to the underworld, but also something as apparently innocent as a diary brings out lots of trouble to Semyon. On the other hand, the affair of Soyka’s murder at Azim’s barbershop, an impulsive command by Kirill which also will cause lots of disturbance. The typical catchy sentence to attract the audience, in this case, is more than appropriate and quite meaningful: Every sin leaves a mark. well, basically Eastern Promises, depicted in this Russian mafia frame, is all about that. Everything you do, will have consequences, no matter whether your acts involve low or high profile people.
I enjoy lots with the way the story develops, the different plots getting closer and closer, thus the more you see, the more you understand. Characters are evolving according to the circumstances, and who you think was the nice guy, turns to be a real son o a bitch, and the other way round.
Russian mafia is definitely one of the strongest points in the story. We’ve seen Italian mafia hundreds of times, Irish gangs, ghetto boys, Chinese mob…we know how they deal with their affairs. However, we are quite ignorant regarding Eastern dirty business and the way they handle and behave, traditions, code messages and whatever stuff you can think of.
Interesting the fact that this family is settled in London. I used to live the 12 years ago and noticed a massive wave of Russian and Polish immigrants. In certain neighborhoods, there were groups of guys dealing and arguing in street corners, with young nice chicks by their side…Here the legal business is the restaurant, but then you find brothels with prostitutes confined, hooked on heroin, pursuing the western dream of getting away from poverty for a better living. Tatiana was one of these girls, her innocence corrupted and her life ruined.
Tattoo code really fascinates me, probably because this traditional feature has almost disappeared. Tattoos not only meant choosing an unorthodox way of life, but also marked the belonging to a dark and exclusive elite. And finally, in this case, beside every inking having a meaning, certain ones were kind of awards, as in the Army, recognition and rising levels.
Along his filmography, Cronenberg has hired services of relevant actors for his purposes: Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Walken, Ralph Fiennes, James Woods, Marilyn Chambers and Jennifer Jason Leigh, among others. Truth is that before A History of Violence, I find remarkable the partnership between the director and Jeremy Irons, which delivered two of the least popular of his films, yet to be included among the list of most twisted minded and insane of his works: Dead Ringers and M Butterfly. I love both, especially the story of the Mantle twins, I had already talked about long time ago on this blog.
With the concept of the trilogy of the violence, seems that the story repeats, with the Canadian and Mortensen creating a strong comradeship. A History of Violence was the starting point, sharing features in common with Eastern Promises. They both show us men, with lives which differ enormously from what they really are, and consequently carrying a heavy burdens.
If Mortensen’s act in the first one was outstanding, I reckon as Nikolai he’s over the top. He’s not just the driver, but also the undertaker, the nurse of Kirill, the Russian Mr. Wolf always ready to put things back in their place. From the very beginning my friend was wondering whether he was good or evil. I think he settles right in the middle. As you’re discovering what he’s into, in order to do good, his methods are wrong.
Rumors say that Cronenberg is planning to work on a sequel. If this is true I feel really curious, it can be a waste of time or a master piece. The end of the film leaves one door open everyone wants to peep through. That could be a good opportunity to discover how the aftermath would be. I’d love it. We’ll have to wait and see.
Once again, Cronenberg does not disappoint. People criticize him for moving away from the body horror he mainly created, and turning more mainstream. I disagree. Nowadays the director focuses more on tough stories, with some kind of lesson behind, and perhaps, rather than insisting on the reality-delusion duality, he’s more into parallel lives, with an apparent front, and a dark side underneath, which eventually comes up to surface. And nevermind what others say, he keeps on with his taste for blood.
Misunderstood and underestimated, in my humble opinion he’s one of the most talented directors, always delivering interesting and different proposals, audience should pay more attention to. Seriously, it’s never too late to discover his work, I encourage you from here.