A film as clear as mud.
It’s in black & white, takes place in Russia, and is about the fantastical mind of a troubled young boy — sounds like a winner. But after nearly an hour of watching Bullet Collector, it appears as if writer/director Aleksandr Vartanov was more concerned with how his film looked, rather than the substance of what should’ve been a very intriguing story.
A troubled young Russian teen (Ruslan Nazarenko), is mired in a life with a distant mother, a step-father who hates him, and bullies at school who constantly harass and beat him. It’s no wonder he creates a fantasy world where he has a beautiful girlfriend and his father is a legendary bullet collector, a killer police never catch because he always collects the bullet shells from his crime scenes. But after the young man attacks one of his tormentors -seriously injuring him, the teen is sent to a reform school where he encounters more harassment and abuse -by the staff, as well as the other boys at the facility. Utilizing the help of a fictitious friend from his fantasies, the boy concocts a way to escape his hell, at the same time delving deeper into his imaginary
The bones of Bullet Collector are promising. The story gets lost however in Vartanov’s artistic interpretation, which gives the film a lot of style but little substance. The movie is a surreal experience, due in part to its being filmed entirely in this washed out black and white, but also because Vartanov enjoys odd camera angles, playing with depth perception, and fiddling with the focus of many of his shots. The unusual techniques quickly wear thin,
and the film never finds its footing — delivering a story that is muddled and hard to follow.
Vartanov continues with the parlor tricks by showing how the young man sees life using a series of quick scenes and jump cuts that bounce back and forth between reality and his fantasy world. The editing is so erratic that at times the scenes appear to be thrown together in a random sequence. The times when it’s hard to tell if we’re in the boys head or if what’s happening on screen is real take you out of the film, and with each departure, it’s harder to reengage with the story. Maybe this was the effect that Vartanov wanted, but it hindered his ability to tell a cohesive story.
So much attention is placed on the visual quality of the film, that we never get a sense of who any of the characters are. This is the first role for young Ruslan Nazarenko, and his performance of a disturbed teen is fairly believable. Still, there’s something missing in his portrayal. This could be because the film is so disjointed, but I found his character to be an empty shell, going through the motions in a way that feels forced and unnatural. We get a glimpse of his mother, who’s tired of her son’s troubles, but we aren’t given a clear picture of who she is, and the step-dad is merely a caricature of all mean movie step-parents — nothing new here, folks, just keep moving along.
I found the “Making of” featurette of Bullet Collector more interesting than the film itself. We see many of the same scenes from the movie in original color instead of black & white, which gives it a whole different feel, and I like them better. It was less dependent on technique, raw and far less nuanced. This isn’t a nuanced situation, this kids’ life is a nightmare, and Vartanov tried too hard to be inventive while abandoning his primary duty: to tell a good story.
One thing that I had hoped the film would build on is how the teen’s name is never used. IMDb lists the character’s name as ‘On,’ but no one ever calls him by that; in fact no one ever uses a specific name to address the young man at all. This works wonderfully to show just how unimportant he is to the people around him, so much so, that he isn’t even worthy of something as basic as a name. But Bullet Collector never builds on this, and that powerful point is lost in this artsy-fartsy black and white world.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is hard to watch because of the almost blinding whites. On top of that, the subtitles are very difficult to read because some genius chose a white font color — brilliant! I had to stop several times in order to read what was being said, which kind of kills the mood, if ya know what I mean. The Dolby stereo audio effectively highlights the disturbing soundtrack by Aleksey Aygi and the guttural Russian language. Extras include a Making of Featurette, three cast auditions (including star Ruslan Nazarenko), a deleted scene, and a 12 page collectable booklet.
Bullet Collector is an example of a good story poorly executed. Vartanov squandered an opportunity to make a really hard hitting film about a young man whose life is so unbearable, he creates his own world. This story
should have been so much more gripping, but Vartanov places a higher priority on style over substance.
So sorry, just nyet good.
Bullet Collector (DVD)
2013, Artsploitation Films, 121 minutes, NR (2011)
VIDEO: 1.78:1 AUDIO: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Russian) SUBTITLES: English (SDH)
EXTRAS: Deleted Scenes, Featurette, Interviews, Trailer, Booklet, Reversible Cover ACCOMPLICES: IMDB