By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Regardless of their political beliefs, nation of origin, religion, etc., people are people. For sure, cultural and other differences exist, but most people just want live their lives as best as they can. Rarely an easy journey, life throws its share of curve balls, speed bumps, and challenges which can serve as major turning points. Foreign language film Moscow Never Sleeps offers an insightful look into several lives of various backgrounds and different stages of life in the Russian city. Written and directed by Johnny O’Reilly, the film reminds its audiences that regardless of our dissimilarities, deep down inside, we are only human.
Moscow Never Sleeps follows the lives and stories of five different protagonists, some of which are connected. On the day of a Russian holiday, a successful and well-liked comedian (Yuriy Stoyanov) faces mortality and the sins of his past, as he gets admitted to a hospital for heart disease. Meanwhile, his son Ilya (Oleg Dolin) follows around former lover Katya (Eugenia Khirivskaya) in hopes of winning her back. A successful pop singer, Katya must decide between Ilya and her current lover Anton (Aleksey Serebryakov), a once successful businessman who is about to lose his company. A timid teenager (Anastasiya Shalonko) wishes to escape her unhappy life with her mother, stepfather, and rebellious stepsister (Lyubov Aksyonova). Finally, a young man must decide if putting his ailing elderly grandmother in a nursing home is the right thing to do. As the day progresses into night, everyone faces some important decisions that will affect the direction of their lives.
Johnny O’Reilly’s Moscow Never Sleeps may not be a major achievement in filmmaking, but it is definitely a well-written and directed movie with superbly developed characters each with their own compelling stories. Regardless of the setting, each character’s story should resonate with adult audiences, as they have either experienced these scenarios or are familiar with such situations. That is not to say that the city of Moscow has no impact whatsoever on the stories. O’Reilly simply wishes to shed some light on the people and the city that, despite certain cultural differences, still deals with some very common issues that all people must face in their lifetimes. O’Reilly and his crew do exceptional work to capture the real nitty gritty feel of the various parts of the city–from the dirty squalor of the ghettos to the slick and glossy buildings in the nicer parts of the city.
The movie features outstanding performances by the wonderful ensemble cast. The real standouts, though, are Yuriy Stoyanov whose turn as the dying comedian Valeriy captures the pain, fear and other emotions one feels while facing death and reflecting on his life. I was also rather impressed with the quiet and pained performance by Anastasiya Shalonko who stars as Lera a shy and reserved teenager who manages to channel some inner strength when her stepsister takes her on a wild night of partying. Also, Aleksey Serebryakov performs exceptionally as Anton, a troubled businessman running away from his problems.
Whether one runs away from problems, faces them head on, or simply ignores them until it is too late, the one common thing people share is that we all have them. What makes this movie even more relevant now is that fear and misunderstanding continues to drive people apart, build walls, and increase tensions. Should people stop focusing on our differences and start realizing our commonalities, perhaps we can have a greater understanding of each other and work for a better tomorrow. I know it sounds ridiculously easy, because it is anything but that. Still, films like Moscow Never Sleeps are important because it reminds audiences that whether one is Russian or American, deep down inside we are only human.
Moscow Never Sleeps opens in theatres nationwide, beginning June 9th, 2017 in New York City at the Village East Cinema, June 16th in Los Angeles at Laemmle’s Ahrya Fine Arts (Beverly Hills, CA) and Laemmle’s Town Center 5 (Encino, CA), and June 30th in Washington, D.C. at the Landmark E Street Cinema. The film will expand into additional cities throughout the summer.