The Far East: Kazakhstan, 1943.
Frustrated with the growing number of street gangs tarnishing the socialistic ordinance the local party leaders are cracking down on the negative elements society has produced. After a routine cleaning a group of underage boys are detained and sent to a military camp where they will be trained for a special mission. Far away from civilization pickpockets, murderers, and reactionaries will have to survive a cruel training program devised by the communist elite to weed out the weak. Those who are unable to endure their training will be deactivated.
In the military camp where the boys are sent, however, even those in charge with the training are often unable to subdue them. Fists are exchanged, throats are being slashed, and friendships are tested. Slowly but surely only the best and most physically fit will survive the lessons of their teachers.
When the most reliable group of boys is finally gathered a letter is dispatched announcing that the Svolochi (Bastards) will have to penetrate a heavily-guarded German stronghold responsible for the oil supply on the Far East front. From the military camp in Kazakhstan the boys are flown to an unmarked location in Transylvania, Romania where their mission will begin.
Product of the so called New Wave of Russian films that has emerged in recent years Svolochi a.k.a Bastards (2006) is quite the surprise. The film, produced with a rather limited budget, revives a fragment from Russia's history when the communist apparatchiks were plotting how to disrupt the well-oiled German machine. Quite obviously Bastards focuses on what until a few years ago was a forbidden subject for Russian journalism: child exploitation during WW2.
The little preliminary feedback that I was able to gather for this film suggested a heavily-action oriented feature with plenty of special effects. In fact, a few foreign sites even described it as being a cheap Battle Royale copycat. Nothing could be further from the truth!! Not only is this one heavily character-driven drama but if there was anything in terms of plot construction that has been borrowed from another feature then I most definitely missed it. Bastards is undoubtedly a Russian film with plenty of bitter nostalgia!
Put aside the rare and mostly disturbing action scenes and the rest of Bastards is indeed quite pleasing to watch. Yes, there is plenty of gore in it, most certainly plenty for my taste, but I can see how the director would justify its presence. In my opinion the heavy subject Bastards attempts to deal with leaves very little room for sugary sentimentality complimented by a feel-good finale. Indeed, I quite liked how the characters were introduced to me and if not for a few sloppy moments that disturbed the otherwise good rhythm of the story I think that Bastards gets quite a few things right. Indeed, fans of exotic adventure films drawing inspiration from recent historic events should be satisfied with this relatively new Russian production.
How Does the Film Look?
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 (footage from the music video in the extras department suggests OAR of 2.35:1) and enhanced for widescreen TV's Bastards looks very good. Colors are extremely well-reproduced, the print is in excellent condition, and film grain (where visible) appears natural. If there is an area of this presentation that slightly lags behind it is probably the fact that during a few scenes in my opinion contrast was slightly boosted (certainly more than what I like seeing in recent films). Frankly, I would not consider this being a major issue of concern and therefore have no reservations in recommending this DVD to you. PAL, Region 5.
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with its original Russian language track in Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS this DVD will most likely test your sound system's muscles. I don't know what company mastered the track (certainly I do not own any other Russian DVDs that are this loud) but I had to adjust my set-up three times. The DTS track is so powerful that during explosions you have to be very, very careful with the volume control. With this said I am indeed very impressed: sound is clear and crisp, the dialog very easy to follow, and I could not hear a singe crack, hissing, or dropout to report to you.
Subtitles: done in an extremely intelligent manner the English subtitles are near perfect. I would like to advise you however that two maybe three times there are a few Russian names that have been "translated" in Russian (they appear in Russian letters). I believe that the editors attempted to be as original as possible but maybe a few of you will be surprised by such an approach. Either way I find it quite intriguing to say the least. Last but not least a few of the locations where the action takes place appear on the screen only in Russian (for example: before the boys enter Transylvania for a second the location appears on the screen in Russian letters only. It is more than obvious anyhow as the English translated dialog announces it but I thought that you should be aware of it). In Russian with optional English subtitles.
There are three different extras on this DVD and all of them are in Russian without English subtitles. The first and second appear as "Behind the Scenes" of some sort plus there is an interview with the crew members and director. Last but not least there is a music video with footage from the film. In addition there are trailers for other upcoming VOX-Russia releases.
I was quite surprised to see such an emotional film. Bastards is a solid production that would certainly entertain those wishing to go that extra mile and experiment with what Russia has been producing lately. The DVD is a fine product, perhaps pushing the envelope a tad too much in the audio department, and I do not see why we should not give it a RECOMMENDED mark.
This review was made possible with the kind assistance of Xploited Cinema.