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Alexander Gorchilin Acid Review

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Acid | 2019 Berlin Intl. Film Festival Review

Acid | 2019 Berlin Intl. Film Festival Review

Melt With You: Gorchilin Tracks the Apathy of Russia’s Youth in Agitated Debut

Alexander Gorchilin Acid PosterNo one gives a damn about their generation until they begin to examine how cultural undercurrents have neutered them into hapless submission. Apathy and aimlessness underlie the troubled contemporary youths of director Alexander Gorchilin’s debut, Acid, which one assumes would relate to the street name for a hallucinogen but instead literally utilizes the corrosive fluid doubling as a dramatic catalyst and trenchant metaphor in modern Russia’s constricted culture. A drug-fueled, post-punk portrait of mad youth in a world (not yet quite) on a wire, Gorchilin’s energetic, mostly free-form critique of millennials in Russia concludes that the main problem of privileged progeny is they’ve been too sheltered to have any. Dedicated to mothers and fathers of Russia, Gorchilin’s prescient subtext suggests such rampant stagnation is merely a facet passed down and recycled through each generation.

Shortly after Vanya (Petr Skvortsov) is reined in by friends Pete (Alexander Kuznetsov) and Sasha (Filipp Avdeev) during a drug induced wave of paranoia, Pete callously tells Vanya to jump off a balcony, which the young man does. The hapless twentysomethings, united by class, age and lack of father figures, seem to have lost their sense of empathy for others, despite going through the motions as friends. Following Vanya’s funeral, Pete also has his own self-inflicted incident. Meanwhile, Sasha begins to become sort-of reacquainted with his mother just as he beings a troublesome relationship with an adolescent girl. Their lives seem to be in a state of constant distress, perpetually on the verge of emotional or physical combustion during bouts of clubbing, drugs and dabbling in esoteric artistic circles.

Gorchilin’s scenario hearkens back to the disillusioned artists of America’s Beat poets, dressed in the nihilistic tendencies of Gen X cinema from the 1990s. Angry, lost and spinning out of control, this trio of white male protagonists are so out of sorts they might as well be primed targets for a Bird Box scenario/catalyst for self-destruction. Sans any kind of linear narrative, the film’s connective tissue between Sasha, Peter and Vanya only loosely defines a free-falling rhythm reminiscent of Russia’s rich cinematic heritage, and Sasha becomes the film’s center piece almost if by default due to the tragic demise of the other two. All of them, however, seem unable to avoid impulsive behavior which leads swiftly to their demise.

Gorchilin, a protégé of Kirill Serebrennikov (he appeared in both 2016’s The Student and 2018’s Leto), presents a topsy-turvy world in opposition to the worlds created by his mentor, where desires and traditions have failed everyone instead of instilling hope or helplessness. If the 1980s Leningrad set Leto presents a punk generation desperate to revolutionize, Gorchilin’s youth is their crippled lineage, products of a political and cultural overhaul which never ascended to the promise of post-Soviet fantasies. As such, it’s perhaps purposeful how Gorchilin reconstitutes Petr Skvortsov (the manipulative lead of The Student, who twists the regressive uses of religion to satisfy personal aims) as his narrative’s early tragic figure, introduced naked in the squalor of a bathroom suffering from a drug induced haze, goaded nonchalantly by his friend to jump off a balcony to his death.

They’re desensitized but not yet unconscionable, and Vanya’s death leads to Peter’s ingestion of acid, procured from the artist Vasilisk’s studio, which he uses to corrode busts of Russia’s enduring icons, showcasing their newly mangled forms as the perverted remnants of a bygone era, their ideals merely an archaic altar still fervently idolized. Vasilisk’s photographing of Sasha’s circumcised penis generates the film’s final subplot, examining his arrested development after being raised by his grandmother whilst his estranged mother consults him on her lackluster attempt to start a new family whilst he enters a problematic sexual relationship with a fifteen-year-old girl.

Gorchilin brings us to the precipice of extreme cruelty during a scheduled baptism, highlighting the potential destruction in slavish adherence to such traditions, wherein celestial concerns blind us from the tangible possibilities of terrorism from flowers concealing serpents.

Reviewed on February 8th at the 2019 Berlin International Film Festival. Panorama Program. 98 Mins.

★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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