Me Too (2012): The post-nuclear rapture according to Balabanov
Me Too (Я тоже хочу, 2012) is the last film by the notorious Russian director Aleksei Balabanov (Brother, Cargo 200). The last both in the sense of the latest and perhaps the one marking the end of his career. After Venice’s Orizzonti, the film was presented in the programme of Seville European Film Festival, which, Obskura attended mainly because of Balabanov’s new creation.
While every reviewer is kicking around the storyline similarities Me Too has with Tarkovsky’s Stalker, it can be clearly seen that the film is a very personal confession one makes when the end is in sight, and this is what’s so special about it. As a matter of fact, Balabanov has hinted that his health is failing and that he was supposed to die half a year ago (see this interview), which only adds to this stance.
Whether Balabanov is bracing himself to die or not, Me Too turned out to be both a very intimate study of a human’s inherent and unsatiated longings and a daring self-enquiry, the two characteristics being very dissonant with the rest of the director’s filmography.
Me Too revolves around the mythical bell tower that stands in the middle of irradiated area and is believed to transport people to the place of happiness. Not everybody can make it through the trip, dying from high radiation levels in a scenario that brings echoes of the Biblical plagues. Besides, not everyone can be transported: the bell tower takes only the ones who deserve it.
Five marginally archetypal characters—the bandit, the whore, the musician, the alcoholic and the alcoholic’s alcoholic father—set out on a pilgrimage in search of happiness, their way running through the wastelands of a nuclear winter apocalypse.
The leader of the Russian rock band Auktyon (АукцЫон) Leonid Fyodorov is responsible for Me Too’s repetitive and ingeniously monotonous score, that accompanies the characters in their Russian rapture road trip and perfectly conveys the purgatory state they exist in.
Balabanov draws parallels between himself and the bandit character, a fact that becomes explicit when the director makes a cameo appearance (for the first time in his whole career). Balabanov’s candidness at the press conference in Venice surprises: “Mosin [the bandit in the film] is a murderer. [...] I made fourteen films and killed a lot of people in them, so I am also a murderer in some sense”.
Another important figure in the film is a teen boy with a gift of prophecy played by Balabanov’s own son Pyotr Balabanov. In the interview, Balabanov Junior claims that he agreed to appear in Me Too as it might be the last film of his father. He also plans to work in cinema, and Me Too was a way to learn. Bearing that in mind, the outcome of the film acquires a great deal of symbolism.
As everything builds up, Me Too indeed starts to look like Balabanov’s deathbed confession with elements of repentance. However, knowing the director’s taste for provocation, one can never know if he’s just toying with the audience. In either case, Me Too came out to be the most off-beat film on Balabanov’s record and deserves to be seen at least because of that.