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‘City Zero’

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 05, 1991


Karen Shakhnazarov
Leonid Filatov
Not rated

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Karen Shakhnazarov's tedious "City Zero" is a Soviet-style episode of "The Twilight Zone" executed in painful slow motion. The picture, which is basically an irritating series of surreal non sequiturs on the maddening irrationality of Communist Party bureaucracy, begins matter-of-factly enough with the arrival of a Moscow engineer named Varakin (Leonid Filatov) in the home city of the air conditioning firm with which he has business. The tone shifts drastically, though, when Varakin arrives for his appointment with the company's chief executive and is greeted by a pretty secretary sitting calmly, stark naked, behind her typewriter.

Slightly rattled, Varakin enters the office of the executive, who says he'll be happy to help and summons his chief engineer only to be informed that he is no longer with the firm. "He drowned eight months ago," his stripped-down secretary tells him.

After this, Varakin's day rapidly gets worse. For dessert at the restaurant where he goes for lunch, he is presented with a cake in the shape of his own head. Worse yet, when he protests that he didn't even order dessert, the chef, who is famous for being the city's "first rock 'n' roller," kills himself, sparking suspicion over Varakin's role in his death and making it impossible for him to return to Moscow.

What Shakhnazarov has attempted to create here is a vision of Soviet society as a kind of Kafkaesque maze in which Varakin gets hopelessly lost. Nothing makes sense for Varakin here -- or, unfortunately, for us. We're baffled but not interested. Possibly, this is because the director's sense of the surreal is so obvious and commonplace. Just as possibly, it's because Varakin cuts a very pale figure at the center of all this nonsense. Little in life is as patience-trying as failed outrageousness, and that's what "City Zero" gives us.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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