A 14 year old boy hates his life, and he often finds himself getting in trouble. Whether it's at home or elsewhere. In his mind he is creating a world he actually hopes would be reality - one where he is deeply involved in gangs, has killed people and is a generally tough guy you don't mess with. Reality is far from this, but one day he gets into another problem, combined with an accident, and is soon sent away to a youth institution.
Russian art is overall very fascinating and differs a lot from what we're used to in Sweden (as well as USA, and likely most of the world). Of course, the entire culture there is different, but my focus is mainly on the arts. And film, especially. But most of the modern movies I have seen have been less stylistic (although still very beautiful), and not as overwhelming in overall terms. So it's with great joy that I am reviewing "Bullet Collector", something that takes some of the artistic traits from the masters, pumps up the oddity and puts it into a "The 400 Blows"-like storyline.
"Bullet Collector" is about a 14 year old boy with a bad habit of lying. He creates wild stories where he has became the enemy of two gangs, one being the Bullet Collectors. They're skilled shooters who are so good that cops won't even bother them, and they are notorious for always collecting the bullets from the people they kill. There's also their mythical guns, which only they and their victims are allowed to ever see. The boy also claims to have killed people before, and is a general menace to society. But in the real world he's a young man with young man's problems - he's about to become a man, but he doesn't want to. He's not ready. Between problems in school and with his stepfather, he is quite sick of life and doesn't want to be part of it anymore. Perhaps this is why he is creating his own world. And it seems to be working, as his amazing stories manages to draw him close to a girl. But as they get closer to each other, finally putting words on their feelings, he is sent off to a youth institution after having been involved in several things (one thing being attacking an even younger boy, punching and kicking him on the ground), as well as a car accident. In the institution he is treated like crap, just like on the outside. But slowly he is allowed to live the life he created in his mind as he begins to plan an escape with a few other kids.
A lot of questions are raised when watching this, and some things are never truly answered. Even though we know he didn't kill anyone, or was part of a gang, his stories are definitely based off of something. The visions of his real father, a "Bullet Collector", often come into play and maybe there is some truth to his lies. I don't think any definite answers are given, but the viewer will speculate upon the subject, and most surely leave the film with their own idea of the truth. I know I have mine.
The only complaint I have about the movie is that there are plenty of things that come off as unlikely. You always have to accept that a movie is a movie, but it's also a filmmaker's duty to help you accept what is happening. "Bullet Collector" is a movie mostly about kids, around the age of 14 (often under), so when you're watching such a violent movie as this actually is, it's inevitable to find yourself saying "really?" now and then. You kinda need to let go of some of these things and learn to accept the situation and the characters. Once you truly manage to do that, you'll feel like what you have watched was something very unique. But what?
This is a powerful debut film by theater director Aleksandr Vartanov, and if you focus on the style alone you'd think he has been making movies for decades. It's THAT clean and good looking. Hell, the story is way more complex and touching than you'd expect from a debut filmmaker as well. The obvious theme here is youth violence, and to make the message work they decided to go to an extreme. By allowing both overly gory violence, as well as mindnumbingly surrealistic sequences, there's an almost out-of-this-world feeling going on. But still staying grounded to the problem at hand: youth violence. What makes young people commit such crimes? Is it the enviroment they are growing up in? Is it the endless struggle to "be someone"? Maybe it's even the desperation for love as you're going into adulthood. It's important to realize that in Russia there are things expected from you already when you're 14 years old. You're not really a child anymore. "Bullet Collector" throws together all of these reasons into one young man's life, and there are few portrayals of this that go as far out as this one.
It's easy to get hypnotized by the interesting editing choices, the surrealistic and almost metaphorical shots that we're introduced to early on. Sometimes introducing characters who are only part of his fantasies can make it hard to decipher the two worlds, although they are usually very seperable. Many scenes are slowed down, shot in a certain angle, lit up in an unusual manner, which keeps building the surreal atmosphere even in the most realistic of scenes. I think it's an interesting technique to put us into the mind of this confusing young teenager.
A lot of the most graphic violence (it's not ultra-gore, but certainly above your average drama/thriller violence) early on in the movie is in his head. It doesn't make the impact any less strong, though. A scene that stuck out is one after he has witnessed a real murder (or at least he saw the aftermath of it), and when he's back home he sees the victim in his apartment. The dead man pulls out his guts and wraps them around his head. It's quite an odd scene, and is a prime example of how randomly bizarre this movie can get. Even though it's a DRAMA!
The movie feels like it has two distinct parts, even though it has plenty more chapters. The first part, to me, is before he gets into the institution. The second one is when he's in there. And I'm sure it's intentionally since it's around the 1h mark. In the first half of the movie it's hard to really like him - he comes off as rude, violent and as a liar. It's not until the bridge between the two parts that we see something truly innocent, nice and real about him. I have come to call the love scene between him and the girl "the bridge" because it shows a different side to our character, and makes the second half more caring. The second half has him slowly becoming the man he wanted to be, only this time we root for him.
The movie is far from a feel-good movie. It's violent even towards young kids, it's filled with depressing subject matter, there's no happy ending. It's a unique and highly stylistic depiction of youth violence and being a true outsider (disliked even by the outsiders). In the end, "Bullet Collector" is an experience. It manages to bring up something realistic and horrifying in a way we understand it - by making it confusing and pushing it to an extreme in any way possible. Even though it never manages to come clean from certain degree of disbelief, I really dug "Bullet Collector" and I'm sure a lot of our readers would enjoy (if that's the word to use) this drama as much as I did.