The Vanished Empire
Directed by Karen Shakhnazarov
Emotionally acute, grittily realistic, and surprisingly lyrical, THE VANISHED EMPIRE is a “wise, elegiac film” (The New York Times) that depicts a teenage boy’s stumbling journey into adulthood from the streets of early 70’s Soviet Moscow, to a lost city in the timeless Uzbekistan desert, to a post-communist Russian future that seemed impossible during the height of the cold war.
Trapped by obligations to his pre-teen brother, archaeologist single mother and aging grandfather, the illicit temptations of youth, and the social hypocrisy of life in a USSR fifteen years away from its own inevitable transformation, 18 year old Sergey rebels by sidestepping responsibility altogether. Aided and enabled by the privileged, westernized diplomat’s son Kostya and straight-laced schoolmate Styopa, Sergey pursues girls, vodka, pot, and Western rock and roll with equal abandon. But then the arrival of gorgeous, innocent Lyuda threatens to break Sergey out of his rootless cycle of teenage kicks, even as it tests his already tenuous connection to friends, family, past, and future.
Working in widescreen, director Karen Shakhnazarov (Jazzman, The Rider Named Death) expertly recreates Brezhnev-era Moscow, captures the hypnotic otherworldliness of the West Asian desert, and crafts a bracingly unsentimental, humorous, and moving portrait of youth and country on the threshold of inevitable change.
“ONE OF RUSSIA’S SIGNATURE VOICES... with a wry attitude toward life under the Soviet umbrella.” – Michael Atkinson, BOSTON PHOENIX
“THIS WISE, ELEGIAC FILM... embraces a view of history that is more far-reaching than the rise and fall of the Soviet Union.” – Stephen Holden, THE NEW YORK TIMES