Movie Reviews

April 14, 2009

Perestroika Beguiles

By Ella Taylor

On the evidence of his new movie, Slava Tsukerman, who made the 1982 cult movie Liquid Sky, would make a brilliantly entertaining dinner guest. The Russian writer-director, who thrives on confusion, has emptied the contents of his very busy head and heart into this crowded, talky but immensely likable movie about almost everything in a rapidly changing, uncertain post-perestroika world.

Tsukerman's test case for this modest ontological inquiry is a post-Soviet alter ego named Sasha Greenberg, played strong and silent by Sam Robards, who returns in 1992 to his beloved Moscow from self-imposed exile to take in the shock of the new. An astrophysicist who left Russia a traitor and returns a hero, poor Sasha is torn between America and Russia, between science and morality, and between the four satellite women (Ally Sheedy, snippy as ever, plays his wife) who complicate his inner life. Adding to the overstuffed ambiance is a blithely experimental way with form that will keep you busy separating past from present, as Tsukerman ruefully notes the durability of Russian anti-Semitism with or without regime change.

His aphoristic screenplay ("Sometimes the price of freedom is collapse") may sometimes gild the lily, but the amused tenderness with which he treats his hero- if that's the word for such a porous fellow- and every other blitzed soul in his orbit is completely beguiling. (Sunset 5) (Ella Taylor)

Los Angeles Times 
March 19, 2009

Soviet ex-pat in a different world

In 1982, Russian emigre writer-director Slava Tsukerman made a controversial feature debut with "Liquid Sky," a venturesome and original pitch-dark comedy-fantasy centering on the sex- and drugs-saturated new wave scene in Lower Manhattan. The film's amusing conceit is that an alien, arriving via a flying saucer, is neither friend nor foe -- he's just looking for a heroin high.

Tsukerman's new film, "Perestroika," is about a man who feels like an alien when he returns to Russia in 1992 after the fall of the Soviet Union. Internationally renowned astrophysicist Sasha Greenberg (Sam Robards) had fled Russia in 1975 with the help of an American physicist (Ally Sheedy), who became his wife. Having left a "traitor" who did not want to aid the military -- and who was also fed up with Soviet anti-Semitism -- he returns a hero confronted with a society in chaos yet is expected to expound upon his theory about the coherence of the universe.

He is also experiencing a midlife crisis -- surrounded by his estranged wife; his brilliant, pragmatic former mentor (F. Murray Abraham); his current lover (Jicky Schnee), a documentary filmmaker; and a former flame and colleague (Oksana Stashenko), a single mother with a beautiful daughter (Maria Andreyeva) he might well have fathered.

In this highly personal film, Tsukerman bristles with insights and ideas, pondering even whether it's God's plan that man should destroy all life -- yet manages to work his way rigorously toward a note of spirituality. "Perestroika" asks, with a philosophical shrug of the shoulders: Why not try to be optimistic?

-- Kevin Thomas "Perestroika." MPAA rating: unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (323) 848-3500.


An REF Prods. presentation. Produced by Nina V. Kerova, Slava Tsukerman. Executive producer, Robert Field. Co-producer, Dan Cohen. Directed, written by Slava Tsukerman.
With: Sam Robards, F. Murray Abraham, Oksana Stashenko, Ally Sheedy, Jicky Schnee, Maria Andreyeva, Andrey Sergeyev.
Soviet emigre Slava Tsukerman has spent much of his career crafting docus detailing the lesser-known stories of the former USSR, yet he's best known as the renegade director behind 1982's hallucinatory cyberpunk freak-out "Liquid Sky." With "Perestroika," he fuses both halves of his filmmaking persona, turning the semi-autobiographical story of a returning Russian refugee into a deeply strange, breezily existential cocktail of Milan Kundera and Federico Fellini. The film, which opened March 20 in Los Angeles, is unwieldy, overstuffed and at times hopelessly clunky, yet it's also touchingly funny, visually arresting and somehow a consistent joy to watch. Cult status and a cultivated following in the nooks and crannies of all venues where films are seen these days are indicated.

Functioning as something of a stand-in for the director is middle-aged astrophysicist Sasha Greenberg (Sam Robards, boasting a spot-on Russian accent), who returns to Moscow in 1992 after the fall of communism, having spent the past 17 years in New York working for the U.S. military. His ostensible reason for returning is a physics conference at which he's scheduled to deliver the keynote address, though his time is dominated by reunions with various friends, enemies and lovers, to whom he is both a hero and a suspicious curiosity.

Foremost among his connections is mentor and foil Professor Gross (F. Murray Abraham), an American who defected to the USSR, and whose stoical acceptance of his role in developing nuclear weapons for the Soviets is a counterpoint to Sasha's guilt about doing so for the Americans.

Further complicating matters for Sasha is the sudden convergence of all his past and present love interests, among them Russian astrophysicist Natasha (Oksana Stashenko), American astrophysicist Helen (Ally Sheedy) and Jill (Jicky Schnee), an environmentalist documentarian who happens to resemble a supermodel. Natasha also has a moody young daughter (played with believable teenage awkwardness by first-timer Maria Andreyeva), with whom Sasha develops an instant infatuation -- the fact that she's only 16 and may actually be his daughter is not one of his, or the film's, primary concerns.

As he negotiates this minefield of personalities and allegiances, Sasha reminisces on his life, detailed in extensive flashbacks that Tsukerman films in an unpredictable array of styles, imbuing the film with grace notes of wistful, avant-garde slapstick. Without ever coming to a head, these conflicts simply build, intermingle and dissipate as the film progresses, while in the background the newly democratic Russia seems on the brink of civil war, all to Sasha's weary annoyance. "I'm only interested in studying the structural coherence of the universe," he complains, with the tone of a harried father who just wants to be left alone to watch TV.

Tsukerman loads far too much into the film, with tangential discussions of Russian history and philosophical digressions manifesting from out of nowhere, often at the least appropriate times. At one point, Sasha embarks on a long jeremiad about the disintegration of the traditional family while in the middle of sex with his mistress; in another, a young industrialist and a right-wing journalist debate anti-Semitism and the vulgarity of capitalism while a flamboyant goth band films a musicvideo behind them. In another movie, moments like these would be deal-breakers, but Tsukerman incorporates them perfectly into the rhythm of his film, which, much like the young Russian republic at its heart, excitedly flails out in all directions, unsure of what it wants to be.

Fellini's influence on the film runs deep, and Robards channels Marcello Mastroianni as the passively resigned Sasha, beset by demanding lovers while entranced by a younger woman who emerges as a sort of Platonic ideal. The film's final scene is even lovingly lifted from "La dolce vita," completing the sense of homage.

Alexander Zhurbin's score is excellent. Some tech credits are strangely spotty, though perhaps intentionally so.
Camera (color), Mikhail Iskandarov; editor, Arnold Schlisser; music, Alexander Zhurbin; production designer, Mikhail Rubtsov; costume designers, Mimi Maxman, Tatiana Vdovina; associate producer, Anna Katchko; casting, Judy Henderson, Marina Fotieva. Reviewed at Sunset 5, Los Angeles, March 20, 2009. Running time: 97 MIN.

Read the full article at::


"Four out of Five Stars"

A film review by Jay Antani - Copyright © 2009

Deeply personal, fiercely political, whimsical and unpredictable in style, and direct in voice, writer-director Slava Tsukerman's Perestroika resonates across personal, national, global, and even cosmic levels, all at once. After 17 years of self-imposed exile in America, renowned Jewish astrophysicist Sasha Greenburg returns to his hometown, Moscow, in 1992, the year that Perestroika ("restructuring") is sending shock waves through the social, cultural, and political life of Russia. Perestroika has meant greater political freedom, but it's a freedom without the infrastructure of purpose such that millions are flailing for opportunity. The young yearn for a vitality lacking in their cultural life, the elderly must live on measly pensions, the black market thrives, and vodka-rationing is causing widespread discontent in a nation rife with alcoholics.

Sasha (Sam Robards) has arrived here to address a conference on the structure of the universe -- his life-long obsession. The occasion reunites him with his testy old mentor, Professor Gross (F. Murray Abraham), and with Natasha (Oksana Stashenko), a former colleague and ex-lover who stirs up suspicions that Sasha may have fathered her teenage daughter before he left the country in the mid-'70s. The situation further compounds Sasha's midlife crisis: His marriage to Helen (Ally Sheedy), an American physicist, has fallen apart, and he's in the midst of a dead-end affair with another American, Jill (Jicky Schnee), a filmmaker accompanying him so she can gather newly declassified footage about the country's pollution crisis for her own environmental documentary.

Perestroika is shaped not so much by a plot as by a series of encounters, observations, memories, and contemplations all surrounding Sasha's visit to his homeland. His journey covers several decades' worth of remembrances, stretching from the Iron Curtain era, when anti-Semitism marked his student days and he defected to the West, to his evolving dynamics with Natasha, Helen, and Jill, and the collision of his existential skepticism with Gross's sage obstinacy.

If there's a plotline, it's largely to do with Sasha's reconciliation with Natasha, and the bond he begins to build with her (and possibly his) daughter, Elena (Maria Andreyeva). Sasha and Elena may be decades apart in age, but both harbor dreams of escape -- an escape from the false freedom of perestroika to a truer one, in which the corruption of human nature is finally defied, and in which individual, nation, world, universe, all are unified in a dream of mutual co-existence.

What surprises off the bat about Perestroika is the intelligence of its characters. They may be doubtful and dysfunctional, but they're all genuine and articulate about their grief. Tsukerman's screenplay too heavily relies on voiceover narration to put across his themes, and his dialogue is often too stilted to feel natural. But it's still a pleasure to be in the company of these oddly impassioned individuals. That this cast is uniformly excellent also compensates for the screenplay's defects, especially Robards and Abraham. Abraham, in particular, steals the show as the sly, brilliant Gross, dropping references to Diogenes, Shakespeare, St. Augustine, and Einstein in witty asides that test Sasha's personal and political resolve and make us grateful for a film that doesn't dumb itself down to win its audience.

Most striking about Perestroika, though, is its hard-to-categorize style. Tsukerman smashes together a smorgasbord of video and archival Soviet footage; on-location sequences with scenes using experimental rear projection and false perspectives; digitally processed imagery; sequences intercutting the low-budget psychedelic present-time with pristine sepias of the past, and so on, in a delirious approximation of Sasha's emotional and psychological life. At its best, Peristroika is not unlike Lars von Trier's subliminal, multimedia thriller Zentropa, and the latter-day Welles of The Trial and Mr. Arkadin, in that in experiencing it, we feel we're watching not a real narrative but a dream-story unfolding. That's a quality rarely achieved, and which makes Perestroika one of the year's strangest and most compelling narratives

From Time Out New York

A fascinatingly strange (and strained) midlife-crisis movie, Slava Tsukerman's quasihistorical drama unspools in the year 1992, when astrophysicist Sasha (Robards) returns to Moscow from his 17-year exile to encounter thawing political conditions and unresolved affairs. Toggling between Soviet-era flashbacks and contemporary cocktail parties, Perestroika is refreshingly heady, taking cues from scientific ideas (voiced, authoritatively, by F. Murray Abraham's mentor figure) as well as the titular "restructuring" afoot. Writer-director Tsukerman (Liquid Sky) creates an artificial flow of video backdrops and sound dubbing, resulting in something decidedly awkward, yet fetchingly personal.

Author: Joshua Rothkopf

Time Out New York Issue 707: April 16 - 22, 2009

New York Times

Friday, April 17, 2009

Social and Political Transformations



Published: April 17, 2009

“Perestroika” is a curious combination of documentary and fiction, politics and science, sophisticated structure and incompetent drama. The filmmaker, Slava Tsukerman, is a maximalist, best known for the 1982 post-punk freakout “Liquid Sky,” and his new movie throws plenty at the screen. He's got a lot to get off his chest about the social and political transformations of the Gorbachev era, and he's worked up a memorable, if confused, way to think them through.

Spirituality & Practice  Film Review

By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat


Directed by Slava Tsukerman

REF Productions 04/09 Feature Film

Not Rated

Sasha Greenberg (Sam Robards) returns to his homeland of Russia after living 17 years in the United States. He is an accomplished astrophysicist who is scheduled to give the keynote address at a meeting of many of his former colleagues. Sasha, who is separated from his American wife Helen (Ally Sheedy), has mixed feelings about being in Moscow, a city that he loves but that is filled with many good and bad memories.

When he left Russia for America, he was viewed as a traitor by other scientists including Professor Gross (F. Murray Abraham), his highly intellectual mentor who had defected to the USSR from America to help the Soviets build nuclear weapons. Gross relishes the boldness and daring of those who stand out from the crowd and are not afraid to follow what he calls "sacred curiosity."

At middle age, Sasha is troubled about his on-again and off-again relationship with his wife who made it possible for him to come to the United States and work for the military establishment. He has great appeal to a handful of other women, including his lover Jill (Jicky Schnee), an American filmmaker in Moscow to pick up footage for her documentary on the global destruction of the earth; Natasha (Oksana Stashenko), a Russian astrophysicist he spent a night with years ago; and her rebellious teenage daughter Elena (Maria Andreeva), who may or may not be his daughter.

Russian writer and director Slava Tsukerman has fashioned a nuanced and fascinating film out of Sasha's journey home in 1992, a period known as perestroika or restructuring. The new Russia angers many who are against the corruption and black market, the influence of western decadence in the form of rock 'n' roll, and the rationing of vodka. They are uneasy with the tolerance that enables people for the first time in their lives to say what they feel without the threat of prison. Sasha is reminded of the virulent anti-Semitism he experienced as a boy and as an aspiring scientist. He feels like everything has plunged into chaos — both his private life and the rampant destruction of the world by human beings. In his keynote speech, he shares his feelings and then goes on to talk about his favorite topic: the structural coherence of the universe.

The Black Cat Review

Reviewed by Andrew Johnson

Individuals have to come to terms with themselves. They ponder what they are doing in an often changing world. So it is with Sasha Greenberg (Sam Robards), a celebrated astrophysicist, who has returned to a new and very different Moscow in 1992 after seventeen years of exile. He had been branded a traitor, but is now welcomed back a hero during this period of perestroika (restructuring). Can one really go home again after a large passage of time and change? Such is the thought that pervades this film. Writer-director-producer Salva Tsukerman, whose fame came in his cult classic, “LIQUID SKY,” now turns his sights on his native Russia during this period of enormous change.

Sasha has been invited back by his supportive mentor Gross (F. Murray Abraham), an American defector who had help develop nuclear weapons for the U.S. and the Soviets. Sasha is to speak about the structure of the universe, but feels that his own world is disintegrating beneath his feet. A failed marriage to an American scientist, a relationship at a dead end with a filmmaker, a colleague and former lover who wishes to rekindle their past relationship, and a fiery young female who may well be his daughter, all impact upon his loss of self-assurance and all that he has lived for and believed in. Anti-Semitism of old also seems to haunt him, though old enemies are there welcoming him home. Overwhelmed by all of this, with his personal chaos up front, Sasha questions whether there is any redemption for humanity. Some people may do just too much thinking and evaluating.

A great many philosophical gems are put forth in the presentation, making for great food for thought. Here are a few of them:

1) Man seems to be the plague of the universe with life having lost some of its luster.

2) Scientists with the universe are trying to break through the iron curtain created by God himself.

3) You cannot stop progress. There will always be someone who will use scientific discovery to further the cause of evil.

4) To do scientific study, even if it goes against your strongest beliefs, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's,” the reason given in building the nuclear bomb for the government in charge.

5) Life is complicated, and even more so when one puts further complications into the mix.

"PERESTROIKA" well shows how stifling and heartless the Soviet Union was to its people. It's a pretty good insight into the hopes and aspirations of these very individuals striving for a new Russia. It also ponders how we must reevaluate our own lives and the lives of others. An outstanding aspect of the film is its photography, especially the creative use of color. All told, “PERESTROIKA” is a movie viewer's think about film while watching it, something that most current viewers don't like to do or are incapable of doing. This is a brilliant cinematic endeavor from writer-producer-director Slava Tsukerman that I found to be extraordinary filmmaking. And the motion picture was made in the English language.

The Players: F. Murray Abraham, Sam Robards, Oksana Stashenko, Jicky Schnee, Maria Andreyeva, and Ally Sheedy

The Filmmakers:

Written, produced, and directed by Slava Tsukerman
Director of Photography: Mikhail Iskandarov
Music composed by Alexander Zhurbin
From REF Productions

New York Post



April 17, 2009

The production notes for "Perestroika" state that its Russian writer-producer-director, Slava Tsukerman, has made 43 films.

The only one that captured attention in the US was the cult hit "Liquid Sky" (1982), in which space aliens land on the roof of a downtown Manhattan penthouse in search of a chemical released during sex.

"Perestroika" forgoes aliens -- but not sex -- to tell the story of the director's alter ego, Sasha Greenberg (Sam Robards), an astrophysicist who returns to his native Moscow after 17 years of self-exile in America.

Greenberg finds himself dealing with four women, including his estranged wife (Ally Sheedy) and a 17-year-old (Maria Andreeva) who just might be his daughter by an ex-lover.

Adding to the culture shock are a swiftly changing Moscow and painful memories of anti-


"Perestroika" races back and forth between the Soviet past and non-Communist present. The result is highly personal (Moscow-born Tsukerman also went into exile), talky, clunky and somehow engrossing.


Russian roulette. Running time: 97 minutes. Not rated (sex, nudity). At the Cinema Village, 12th Street, east of Fifth Avenue.