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R: ARCHIVE, S: MOVIES, D: 05/14/1998,

A Friend of the Deceased

Times are tough in Kiev, where it costs about a million rubles for a bottle of Smirnov and the only jobs that pay cold hard American cash are in the black market or worse. For intellectuals like Anatoli (Alexandre Lazarev), the prospect of making a living translating business reports or giving English lessons to crass, nouveau capitalists is grim. When wife Katia (Angelika Nevolina) leaves him for a colleague with a flashy red Ford, Anatoli drunkenly takes up an offer from his friend Dima (Eugen Pachin) to hook him up with a contract killer. Instead of targeting his wife or her lover, however, he sets up himself.

Although its premise is almost identical to Aki Kaurismäki's black comic I Hired a Contract Killer and has echoes of Abbas Kiarostami's recent masterpiece Taste of Cherry, Vyacheslav Krishtofovich's film resonates with a haunting melancholy all its own. Unfolding with crystalline spareness, it's given depth and clarity by Lazarev's rueful, laconic performance and is brightened by a tiny, winsome Tatiana Krivitska as the hooker with a heart of US greenbacks who tweaks Anatoli's soul. Her intervention sets him on a path in which he realizes that not only is life worth living, it's worth being responsible for. In a culture where all else has been devalued, A Friend of the Deceased argues that a conscience can still have currency.

-- Peter Keough