The recent films that have come over from the Soviet Union might be described as kitchen-sink nightmares. Shot in wretchedly grimy apartments and alleyways, filled with grousing and yelling and despair (plus a quota of guzzling-from-the-vodka-bottle partying down), movies like Little Vera and the new Taxi Blues are examples of the imitative fallacy: They’re trying to demonstrate that the Soviet Union has become a squalid mess — and dramatically speaking, both films are squalid messes. Taxi Blues, at least, evokes life on the lowest rungs of post-glasnost Russia with a particular vividness. It’s the story of a Moscow cabbie (Piotr Zaitchenko) who picks up a drunken musician (Piotr Mamanov), gets stiffed on the fare, and then spends the next few weeks alternately abusing and befriending his new acquaintance, trying to get the 70 rubles he’s owed. Taxi Blues is all hyperbolic atmosphere; it’s one garish, semi-improvisatory big scene after another. But the bald, glowering Mamanov — who’s a rock star in the Soviet Union — performs with a desperate, bebop fervor that’s hard to forget.

Taxi Blues
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