A murky wander through Mother Russia past, present and future, Alexey German’s Under Electric Clouds is an ambitious feat of national navel-gazing.
In The Fogby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
If Russian history is a horse, Under Electric Clouds has hacked, minced and dispersed it into tiny pieces. Written and directed by Alexey German, it’s a collection of seven interconnected chapters which take place in a gloomy Russian hinterland – a foggy construction site gone bankrupt which affects almost everyone in one way or another – from the suddenly unemployed immigrant construction worker to the heirs of the dead oligarch paying for the skyscraper and the disillusioned architect whose construction is likely to be demolished and rebuilt in a style more appealing to young professionals and seniors. It’s an apocalyptic state of the nation, stumbling over subjects such as isolation (a stranger in a foreign land or self-imposed with earphones), globalisation (Russia is transformed into a Babel of foreign investors), and destruction of Russian culture (big business angling to destroy and rebuild a crumbling museum so the city can expand while none of the youth remembers Solzhenitsyn, busy fighting staged battles in Tolkien cosplay). And while it’s a seething mass of interlinked ideas and beautifully murky images, Under Electric Clouds relies a little too much on its characters wandering around aimlessly – a kind of cinematic purgatory in which the film’s ideas fail to pull together in resolution or momentum. Instead, after a melancholic dissection of contemporary Russia (albeit with its gently sci-fi 2017 setting), German’s film ends rather abruptly in a moment of disjointed optimism. Two girls reinventing themselves and pulling their Russian horse forward into what can only be a brighter future.
Under Electric Clouds was shown at the 65th Berlin Film Festival and is now showing at the 59th London Film Festival