Cannes 2024 (3)

Russians in America

Sex and Oligarchs

A strip dancer and sex worker in Brooklyn meets a filthy rich young Russian and marries him in Las Vegas. His oligarch parents are not at one bit thrilled by this embarrassing liaison and insist that the marriage be annulled.

43-year-old Sean Baker is a star of the American independent film scene. He is enormously productive as a director and author. Three years ago, he was invited to compete in Cannes for the first time with "Red Rocket". His new work "Anora", which was hailed as an insider tip for the Palme d'Or at its premiere, is already his eighth film.

Sex and precariousness are the central themes in Sean Baker's work. "Sex is everywhere, we live [...] in an exhibitionist society that avoids talking about its obsession," said the director in an interview. At the press conference, he called for more respect for sex workers, whose work should no longer be criminalised. Regarding the #MeToo debate, he said that he has by now shot ten sex scenes in his films and has always made sure that his actors are feeling well, even without an intimacy consultant. His leading actress Mikey Madison felt quite comfortable among all the naked women in the sex club. "The nudity was curiously like a costume for me."

The title character Anora (Mikey Madison), who prefers to call herself Ani because she doesn't like her Uzbek name, works in a New York sex club. There she meets Vanya (Mark Eydelshteyn), who first books her as an escort for a week and then flies with her to Las Vegas, where they get married. A life of luxury seems to be waiting for her, until suddenly two thuggish Russians turn up to take Vanya back to his parents on behalf of the Armenian priest Taros (Karren Karagulian). When Vanya escapes, the two put Ani through the wringer. A wild brawl breaks the furniture in the luxury flat, which makes for some wonderful slapstick. In any case, the film strikes a successful balance between comedy and drama and creates a broad panorama of the post-Soviet community in New York, from the rich oligarch's son to the Armenian clergyman with his rough men to the sex worker Ani, who plays down her Russian-Uzbek origins as much as possible. In order to authentically portray the milieu, Sean Baker hired a Russian-speaking consultant to ensure that the dialogue was linguistically accurate.

First introduced as a taciturn supporting character, the figure of the Russian tough guy Igor takes on increasingly delicate contours. Superbly directed by Sean Baker and played by Yuri Borisov, who received a splendid reception in the Finnish film "Compartment No. 6" at Cannes three years ago. Mikey Madison as Ani shows such an impressive presence that she is being considered as a candidate for the acting award, while "Anora" is becoming a favourite with the critics

From Punk to Fascist

While Sean Baker's film shows the Russian milieu in America today, Kirill Serebrennikov's biopic goes back to the 1970s, when Russian emigrants felt even more alienated in America. The Russian director, who has become famous for his theatre, opera and film productions, portrays the life of the Russian author Edward Limonov. The poet and writer was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1974 and ended up in New York. Serebrennikov casts Ben Wishaw in the leading role. This was not a good decision, as "Limonov: The Ballad" suffers from the fact that everyone, including the Russian actors, speaks English with a Russian accent. A decision intended to improve the chances of international marketing, which robs the film of all authenticity. The construction is similarly absurd as in Ridley Scott's "Gucci" saga and Michael Mann's "Ferrari" portrait.

The French celebrity author Emmanuel Carrère published a biographical work about Limonov in 2011, which the Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski adapted as a screenplay. Pawlikowski originally wanted to direct the film himself, but then lost interest in the character. This is easy to understand, as Limonov, who comes from Russia and grew up in Kharkiv, is not a very likeable character. We see his beginnings as a young poet in Ukraine, his first literary fame in Moscow and his move to New York with his wife Yelena at the beginning of the 1974s.

Limonov enjoys the pose of the angry rebel who wants to blow up everything, has only contempt for other authors and considers himself the greatest of all Russian poets. Once in New York, he celebrates a life of freedom and adventure, styling himself as a Jim Morrison copy with long hair and sunglasses. He soon realises that no one in the USA has been waiting for him. Limonov's reaction fluctuates between delusions of grandeur and self-pity. He goes to France, where his novel "It's Me, Eddie", written in New York, finds a publisher and becomes a bestseller. In 1991, he returns to Russia, where he founds the "National Bolshevik Party", a radical right-wing skinhead group with a strong penchant for violence. Limonov is convicted and celebrated as a hero on his release after two years in prison.

While the years spent in New York are covered in detail, there is not much time left for the years in Russia and the transformation from punk writer to ultra-nationalist agitator. The rest has to be explained in the end credits. A missed opportunity, because Limonov has sown the seeds of an aggressive Russian nationalism from which Putin is also benefiting.

Both films are linked by a sense of alienation felt by Russian emigrants in America. They are torn between the dream of the American way of life and the longing for their homeland in Russia.