Thursday, June 13, 2024

“LIMONOV: THE BALLAD”

THE STORYA revolutionary militant, a thug, an underground writer, a butler to a millionaire in Manhattan. But also a switchblade-waving poet, a lover of beautiful women, a warmonger, a political agitator, and a novelist who wrote of his own greatness. Eduard Limonov’s life story is a journey through Russia, America, and Europe during the second half of the 20th century.

THE CASTBen Whishaw, Viktoria Miroshnichenko, Donald Sumpter & Tomas Arana

THE TEAMKirill Serebrennikov (Director/Writer), Ben Hopkins & Paweł Pawlikowski (Writers)

THE RUNNING TIME – 138 Minutes


There are several ways for one to approach detailing the life and times of a historical figure. The most conventional, which many have grown far too accustomed to, is the straightforward retelling of prominent events conventionally recreated to a faithful degree. Actors wear the costumes and prosthetics to physically resemble the subject as much as possible and play to a broad audience. Another avenue is to simply examine one specific period of time, detailing a significant occurrence in that person’s life that is more focused on its gaze and uses this moment as a springboard to evoke the longer timeline. While both can be effective, there is another path that can be taken. This one involves a broad scope, like the former method, and by no means indulging in any topics considered pedestrian. Such is the case for “Limonov: The Ballad,” an audacious attempt to construct a portrait of a challenging artist.

The central figure here is Eduard Limonov (Ben Whishaw), a Russian poet and political activist from the 20th century who served as a lightning rod for controversy. His journey began in his home country under the control of Stalin, where his writings grew to some notoriety. When the political pressure became too great, he was exiled and fled to New York City with his partner Elena (Viktoria Miroshnichenko). Here, his life experiences a series of hardships, finding himself in self-destructive situations and violent outbursts that fuel his combative ideology and further push himself and his writing. When the Berlin Wall falls, and Russia is no longer dominated by communism, he is welcomed back, but his voice is critical of this new regime, yearning for a return to the crueler past. This movement he inspired ushered a new wave of scrutiny for a man who always sought to challenge whatever forces were in control.

It’s a safe assumption that many people may know little to nothing at all regarding the actual Limonov. For such a controversial figure, that’s already rough waters that director Krill Serebrennikov has chosen to venture out into. He seems entirely fascinated by this man’s constant willingness to attack the current power structures. Limonov battles the capitalist forces of the West while also criticizing the dynamics at play in Russian circles. It’s a tricky subject matter to navigate because it’s impossible to do so without acknowledging his fascist theology that was so extreme it led to his imprisonment in Siberia. The depiction is not an endorsement, but centering such a distasteful personality comes with its own challenges, especially for a film that is enthralled by his tactics but never outwardly makes an explicit condemnation.

Yet, the piece does make one thing very clear: this man was antagonistic to every thought he came across. He was violent and offensive but also powerfully articulate. Serebrennikov also seems drawn into this chaotic lifestyle and captures many of these moments with a stylistic artistry that’s quite bold. His ventures in New York City have a particularly vibrant spirit to them, manifesting a captivating aura of a tumultuous era. We are bombarded by striking imagery, including the city’s vintage recreation that features elements like random people on the street singing “Walk on the Wild Side” and obviously constructed sets that illuminate the artificiality the main character would come to recognize. As far as the filmmaking is concerned, there is a great deal showcased that is impressive in its vibrant artistry, which includes a pulsating musical soundtrack.

The same cannot be said for the actual narrative, which traverses a great deal of time but also ends up meandering through much of this timeframe. There are numerous turns that Limonov’s life takes him through, and while many have an alluring quality, some of them do feel like it impedes a stronger whole. After one incident in which he attacks Elena, he goes on an extended tour through the city, wallowing in self-pity that eventually ends with his own sexual escapades. It’s a harrowing sequence that still adds to the bloated runtime. Excess is also felt in the final act when the story demonstrates an entirely new chapter in this saga while rushing through the details of his more unequivocal far-right dealings. It leaves a sour taste in the mouths of those who have been asked to create some kind of empathy for him. The storytelling is a disorganized, hazy mess that hinders much of what works in the filmmaking, leaving an inevitable hollow feeling that can’t be overcome.

The entire film is crafted around its central performance, and Whishaw delivers stellar work here. His commitment to playing this persona is sincerely felt, regardless of any personal endorsement of the man himself. There is a deep well of inadequacy that consumes Limonov, which also fuels his rage and obsession to be recognized for his works, and that element runs as a constant undercurrent through the performance. Whishaw lets that timidness, which is usually present in many other characters he plays to, become a shade for a more aggressive and outspoken individual. It’s a difficult line to tow, and his portrayal is one of dangerous ferocity that stems from an empathetic insecurity. Even when the words sound like poison, his ability to maintain a captivating presence is astounding to behold. The other supporting players, including a serviceable Miroshnichenko, do their best to support the orbit around this compelling star.

There is a mixture of aspects within “Limonov: The Ballad” that one constantly wrestles with. It’s clear this person, who actually existed, was more than just a complicated lightning rod of political and philosophical arguments. He behaved terribly to people closest to him and advocated on behalf of horribly oppressive governments. However, what drove him as a character, the inspiration to challenge whatever system was dictating its values to the populace, is what remains fascinating within a certain context. That exploration is what makes the piece have some worth. As film is a medium that often asks its audience to relate to protagonists, many may find that too much of an abrasive request. It’s mostly a fault of a convoluted and overly long screenplay that does not interrogate the appropriate corners. Despite its shortcomings, the filmmaking presents a dazzling display, and Whishaw’s remarkable performance helps to alleviate some of these concerns. For such a troubled area of history, this is a commendable way to unfold this story. It leaves much to be desired but also intrigues one to lean in and hopefully discover more.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Ben Whishaw gives a commanding and engrossing performance that is captivating throughout. The examination of this man's life is captured through an intriguing perspective that engages with his complicated history. The filmmaking is often full of striking imagery.

THE BAD - The narrative itself is a meandering mess that struggles to maintain momentum. Not fully discussing Limonov's more insidious actions contributes to some undercooked ideas and a morally questionable reading.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 6/10

Subscribe to Our Newsletter!

Josh Parham
Josh Parhamhttps://nextbestpicture.com
I love movies so much I evidently hate them. Wants to run a production company.

Related Articles

Stay Connected

98,860FollowersFollow
98,860FollowersFollow
7,305FansLike
7,305FansLike
4,490FollowersFollow
4,490FollowersFollow

Latest Reviews

<b>THE GOOD - </b>Ben Whishaw gives a commanding and engrossing performance that is captivating throughout. The examination of this man's life is captured through an intriguing perspective that engages with his complicated history. The filmmaking is often full of striking imagery.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>The narrative itself is a meandering mess that struggles to maintain momentum. Not fully discussing Limonov's more insidious actions contributes to some undercooked ideas and a morally questionable reading.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>6/10<br><br>"LIMONOV: THE BALLAD"