Whether its something like Toshiaki Toyoda’s Blue Spring or even John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club, a solid teen angst film always warms me up inside. Sadly, this can’t be said for my experience with Artsploitation Films’ latest offering. Alexander Vartanov’s Bullet Collector (Sobiratel Pul), is a film that managed to make me feel completely uncomfortable for a majority of its running time. The film follows a young boy living in modern day Russia, that struggles with problems in school, at home and in life in general. After the boy retaliates against one of his oppressors at school, he is sent to a juvenile detention center, where he must endure even more trouble than before. Shot in stark black and white, Bullet Collector is a film that showcases plenty of strengths in its technicality, but gets lost in its own despair and brutality.
Adolescence is a rough time, a period where one is trying to find themselves and their place in the world. Bullet Collector wallows in this and even when it manages to have fleeting moments of tenderness, the rest of the time is filled with such a grim outlook on life, that it feels inescapable. The main character, who is nameless, is also another reason why I had trouble trying to connect with the film. There was a point where he’s being bullied at school and we get to see how he must struggle with being picked on constantly. Not two minutes go by after this has occurred, when he begins to reenact the same brutality, towards a boy that’s no older than eight years old. While its understandable that he lashes out in violence, due to the vicious cycle that he’s living in, but to have him be as unsympathetic as the others around him, creates mixed messages on why this boys life is worth exploring. I was reminded of how Matthew Kassovitz’s Le Haine managed to make his three hooligans, explore social issues and adolescence, yet still maintained the ability to not only make his characters both charming and poignant.
Speaking of French films, Vartanov speaks of Truffaut’s The 400 Blows as an inspiration and manages to pull off some impressive visual feats with his cinematography and editing. Helping in realizing haunting nightmares and dream states, the cinematography and editing work in tandem to create an effective mood. From the dream sequences to an awesome rendition of a car accident, there are plenty of instances where I was amazed at the technical level of skill that cinematographers Ivan Finogeev, Fyordor Lyass, Dimitriy Vladimirov and editor Ivan Gaev showcased in the film. They certainly help Vartanov’s story in multitude of ways and at least make all of the grisly imagery interesting to look at.
While I can respect the work that went into Bullet Collector, its a film that’s too grim for its own good and a low point in Artsploitation Films’ catalog of foreign cinema.