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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Fool (Blu-ray)
The Fool (Blu-ray)
Olive Films // Unrated // April 19, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Oktay Ege Kozak | posted May 16, 2016 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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P R I N T
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The Movie:

"No good deed goes unpunished" is an understatement when it comes to the honest and compassionate plumber Dima Nikitin (Artyom Bystrov), who struggles to hang onto a semblance of human decency while living in a Russian city that's rotten to the core with open corruption, crime, and selfishness. In modern Russia, positive virtues like Dima's are seen as an unwelcome antidote to the cancer that has taken over the system. Dima thinks that by playing by the rules, working hard and trying to better himself through his college education, will one day yield a good and fruitful life.

But his mother knows better. During an intense dinner scene at the beginning of writer/director Yuriy Bykov's angry and captivating takedown of Russian narcissism and corruption, Dima's mother complains about having a rotten life, simply because Dima and his father chose to lead a life based on honesty. She bemoans the fact that their pipes are leaking, because the men in the house refuse to steal them, or bribe a state official to ratify the problem. She never had anything nice and luxurious in her life, because her husband didn't play the game just like everyone else in town who live by the motto "Screw them before they screw you". And now she sees those "disgusting" goody two-shoes qualities in her son, and she's rightfully worried that this attitude will one day lead to his destruction.

As much as this outlook is cynical and hopeless, she's not entirely wrong. After Dima finds out that a building full of 800 poor people is about to collapse overnight, due to a faulty foundation, he immediately takes his warning to the mayor (Natalya Surkova) and her subordinates, who are enjoying a gaudy party in the middle of the night and are almost passed-out drunk. Dima believes that the mayor will immediately evict the building, regardless of the professional and financial cost to her and many people in power who have her in their pockets.

However, Dima's in for a rude awakening, as the mayor and her team do everything in their power to ignore the situation while finding any moral excuse imaginable to justify letting all of those people die, since they were responsible for the building's collapse thanks to "cutbacks" in the city's budget, and understandably don't want to end up in jail, or "taken out" by those who are really in power. One of the most haunting scenes in the film occurs when the chief of police gets fed up with the red tape, and in a drunken stupor, finally confesses how he truly feels. He thinks the people in the building are pests, a bunch of nobodies who deserve to die so the rest of them can lead happy lives without the knowledge of their existence. One expects at least a sigh of disdain from his colleagues, but it never comes.

As despicable as the government officials are in the film, Bykov doesn't paint them as one-dimensional villains. After the halfway point of the story, the focus shifts from Dima to the mayor, who gives an impassioned monologue about how she had two choices: Play the game, or be destroyed. We almost sympathize with her, until we realize that she's still playing that game, and the rules will lead to nothing but disaster to many involved.

In a way, The Fool can work as a complimenting double feature with Ben Wheatley's excellent High-Rise. Both films are angry and brutally honest about the destructive nature of a narcissistic and corrupt system, but use completely different technical approaches to communicate their points of view. While Wheatley uses a colorful and absurdist allegory, Bykov uses a staunchly realistic approach, letting the insanity of the characters' decisions speak for themselves. Whatever humorous or satirical touches we pick up on, they're mostly due to our inability to process such nonchalant lack of human empathy, resulting in laughter being our only form of defense.

The Blu-ray:

Video:

In order to visualize the coldness and isolation of Dima's situation, Bykov uses a distant visual style, full of long shots of streets covered in snow, and backgrounds drenched in black. The 1080p transfer captures that contrast perfectly, and presents a clean home video experience.

Audio:

For some reason, we only get a DTS-HD 2.0 track, which is odd for a contemporary film. The Fool's IMDB page doesn't specify if it originally had a surround mix, but if it did, it would be really bizarre for Olive Films to not include it in an HD release. Since I'm not sure about the details, I'll treat this track as if it's a representation of the original mix. The sound design is as subtle as the film's visual approach, aside from the occasional build-up of the score during some passionate monologues. It would be fine to listen to the film through regular TV speakers.

Extras:

We only get a Trailer.

Final Thoughts:

Even though it's specifically about Russia, the universal themes of The Fool transcend countries and cultures, and speak to the ugliness inside all people. It's easy to treat the characters as pathetic drones of a failing system, but everywhere, even the US, has examples of such stunning lack of compassion in the name of personal gain (Cough, Flint water crisis, cough). Yes, The Fool is an important film, but it's not the "eat your cinematic vegetables" kind. It's incredibly well acted, is always engaging, and has a tight pace. Highly Recommended.

Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com

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