EASY TARGET: The dubious appeal of THE VOROSHILOVSKY SHOOTER. – Generation P: Edward Crabtree’s blog.

 DON’T BREATHE, the American horror thriller from five years back featured a crusty elder fighting back against youthful miscreants. The Russians get there first with VOROSHILOVSKY SHOOTER . Except that this is no horror movie, and the old guy is the hero!

I have hinted before that there exists a glut of gun wielding tough guy shows on Russian television. Every now and then something impressive shows up from this overcrowded market. COLD SHORES (out on Starmedia last year) – not, I admit a typical cops and robbers yarn –  did boast some high production values and could have been summarised as `Russia-pulls-off Scandanavian noir`.

If you dig back a few decades,there could be some other contenders. THE VOROSHILOVSKY SHOOTER (1999) has been broadcas a few times on the TV 1000 Russian film channel of late. Despite my grave misgivings about it, it must be a tribute to its witchcraft that I had not intended to ever write about it, but  find myself doing just that!

A product of the closing years of the tumultuous nineties, this film is no
Bright Young Debut. The producer was 
Stanislav Govorukhin, a director best known for his  iconic T.V seriesThe MEETING PLACE CANNOT BE
CHANGED from 1979.

The leading role was filled by none other than Mikhail Ulyanov, a grand old man of stage and screen, who, among much else, was Dmitry Karamazov in the 1968 rendition of THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV.

Furthermore, the film is an adaptation of a novel by Victor Pronin, a leading doyen of crime fiction, called WOMEN ON WEDNESDAYS published four years earlier than the film.

For all these august connections,THE VOROSHILOVSKY SHOOTER  can be pigeonholed in the Michael Winner-style Vigilantes Revenge crime subgenre that causes such righteous tut-tutting – and for sound reasons.

Yet AFISHA magazine (a hard copy culture review zine from 1999 to 2015)
ranked it among a 100 major Russian motion pictures.

THE VOROSHILOVSKY SHOOTER details in its 95 minutes  one septugenarian’s victory over some of the lawlessness of the early post-Soviet years. It is set amongst `ordinary people` in provincial Russia. (They filmed it in Kaluga, a town some 150 kilometres southwest of Moscow, now known for the Tsiolovsky State Museum of the History of Cosmonautics).

Scenes from provincial life in THE VOROSHILOVSKY SHOOTER [Kininews.ru]


Ivan Afonin (Ulyanov) seems a respectable former railway worker and veteran who cares for his grand-daughter alone in a modest flat. Nearby, in the neighbourhood, live a trio of young `New Russians`. With well connected parents, these young men spend most of their time boozing and – on Wednesdays – paying for sex. They blast out rock music, drive fancy cars and one of them is a student of Structural Linguistics.

Filmed on location in Kaluga.

One summer’s Wednesday evening they find themselves without a female plaything and, from their balcony, catch sight of Ivan’s grandaughter in  an alluring short skirt and high heels. Exuding a certain vivacious charm, one of them invites her to a `birthday party` and she goes upstairs to join them.

A gang rape ensues with all three involved. Ivan, on discovering the
degradation visited on his kith and kin is devastated. He takes the usual route
at first of calling the police.

The police response is rather brutal. They barge their way into the boy’s flat on a pretence of being neighbours then separate the boys and threaten them until one makes a confession.

What happens next is that the father of one of the youths shows up. He is a high-ranking policeman and, displeased as he is by his son, shuts down any further investigation.

`You’ve invaded our land` Ivan tells one functionary when he learns this. He then turns to the black market in search of a big enough gun. (`Look at what television is doing to old people these days` remarks one tradesman after turning him down). However, he finds an S.V.D rifle complete with viewfinder and an all inportant silencer – and people shady enough to be willing to sell it. When he gives it a trial run, he seems such a good shot that they compare him to someone from the Voroshilovsky regiment (A Second World War military unit with legendary marksmanship abilities).

On alternate Wednesdays he picks off the rapists one-by-one from the vantage point of a flat which the old man is looking after while the tenant is away – and which happens to be opposite the boy’s place.

The first young turk gets a bullet in the groin as he holds a bottle of champagne between his legs – and the event is assumed to be due to an exploding champagne bottle at first. He is thus castrated.

The second one is sitting in his car when it becomes an inferno owing to a
shot at the petrol tank. The third one suffers a breakdown into insanity as he
awaits his fate and shoots his own father – the very one who had stymied the
case -in a state of paranoia.

All the while our gunman is posing as an enfeebled old duffer oblivious to the drama which he is creating. Furthermore, he attracts a Guardian Angel in the form of a sympathetic cop who stashes away the gun just before his senior colleagues come searching for it.

The vigilante rifleman is the unequivocal good-guy of this film. [recommend.ru]

Vengeance porn.

By all accounts Pronin’s novel featured a political dimension, with the shooter taking up arms on behalf of the `little people` and in opposition to the post-Yeltsin `New Russians`. This aspect is, for the most part, lost in this film. The title, as well as the promotional poster, foregrounds the old man as the Hero. His tormentors meanwhile, are rock music playing pantomime villains (if very well acted).

The violence too is a form of bloodthirsty poetic justice: for example, in the novel the first victim is shot in the leg, not the genitals.

Then  there is the sexualisation of the female victim. We are treated to shots of her legs so that, before the distressing rape sequence, we feel somewhat titillated.

This is no Horror film then. Nor is it a Revenge Tragedy in the Jacobean tradition. Nor a call for us to ponder on how `violence begets violence` or somesuch issue. Ivan is set up as the clear Hero of the story and we are invited to relish in his cathartic act of disproportionate revenge.

22 year’s old and still popular to this day- but how much has this film contributed to a runaway gun culture in Russia? {prdisk.ru]

So it is no surprise that there are some who have treated this entertainment as though it were an instruction manual. For instance, In 2008, 57 year old Aleksander Mansurov was jailed for murder after he had shot two people, one of  whom had allegedly raped his daughter, in a village near Rostov-On-Don. (Such tit-for-tat brutality may become more rare as gun control measures are being put in place following the school shooting that occured in Kazan back in May of this year).

THE VOROSHILOVSKY SHOOTER  keeps you watching throughout and then stays with you. I, for one, feel sullied by the moral vacuum at the heart of it though.

Lead image: Vkontakt.

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