Film (2014 Russia; original title: Vichislitel; vt Titanium France; vt Titanium Strafplanet XT-59 Germany). Unified Media Group. Directed by Dmitriy Grachev. Written by Aleksandr Gromov, Dmitriy Grachev. Cast includes Anna Chipovskaya, Vinnie Jones, Evegniy Mironov. 82 minutes. Colour.
A thousand years after mankind spread out among the stars, luckless humans on the inhospitable planet XT-59 cling to life in a single Dystopian City, surrounded by dangerous, beast-infested swamps (see Aliens; Monsters). Ten convicted criminals (see Crime and Punishment), some justifiably so, others not, are exiled with limited supplies, and offered the vague McGuffin of the "Islands of Happiness" some 300 kilometres through the wilderness.
Vichislitel ["Calculator"], derives its title in Russian and English from the character of Ervin (Mironov), a cool-headed tactician who once served as a presidential adviser, and who uses deduction, abduction and game theory to plot their route. It is he, for example, who determines that there must be something out in the wastes, otherwise government agents would not have attempted to kill him at the start of the journey, turning him into an occasional commentator on and fixer of possible plot-holes. Ervin has also secretly planted a Computer virus in the president's omnipotent system, and turned himself in as a criminal in order to remove the only individual who can prevent the system from crashing as he flees. His foil and love interest Kristi (Chipovskaya) also functions as the narrator, a choice in perspective that turns her into a largely helpless damsel in distress (see Women in SF), and Ervin into a passive-aggressive manipulator who withholds vital information about their plight. In a typical moment of gotcha revelation, Kristi baulks at the idea of being forced to walk first across the swamp, only for Ervin to point out that it will be easier for him to pull her free from quicksand than if their places are reversed. It is only in the film's final act that Kristi's personal style of reasoning, a fuzzier logic that recognizes the influence of human emotion on decision-making, trumps Ervin's dispassionate Mathematics of motivation.
Despite moments of accomplished computer graphics, particularly in the depiction of the city and its vehicles, Vichislitel was plainly made for a low budget, with many minutes allotted to characters in drab anoraks bickering in a bleak Iceland location. Although its setting is informed by many a Russian dystopia stretching back to Yevgeny Zamiatin's My (written 1920 and circulated in manuscript; Czech trans 1922; trans Gregory Zilboorg as We 1924), it also seems to draw upon the violent Planetary Romances of Harry Harrison's Deathworld series (1960-1963), as the cast negotiates a series of grisly threats.
The geography of XT-59 may owe something to St Petersburg, which, as noted in Alexander Sokurov's Russkij Kovcheg ["Russian Ark"] (2002) was itself once intended as a glorious city of the future, built upon a desolate swamp. Politics looms large in Ervin's battle against the system, and Russian fatalism has the last, grim laugh, when Kristi's closing narration reveals that ten years after our heroes bring down the oppressive government, it would be replaced by one that was even worse. The somewhat haphazard retitling of the film in French and German suggests that marketers had little faith in its philosophical persuasion, seeking instead to highlight the mere seconds of utopian urban vistas and special effects. [JonC]
see also: Grey; Battle Royale; The Hunger Games; Russia.
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