Aleksej Balabanov's Brat II: from Ambiguity to Total Art

Keith A. Livers, University of Texas, Austin

Aleksej Balabanov's The Brother II appeared in the year 2000 as the much-awaited sequel to the tremendously popular Brother (1997). Glibly described by the director himself as a simple "continuation" of the first film, The Brother II nevertheless represents a remarkable departure from the ideology and aesthetics of its predecessor. As Birgit Beumers remarks, Balabanov's Brother portrays the new species of killer-hero that emerged out of the spiritual and ideological void left behind by socialism's collapse. Simultaneously a cold-blooded killer and a folk-tale bogatyr', Danila Bagrov seems to embody the moral and spiritual fragmentation that characterize the "lonely hero of the 1990s." Likewise, Viacheslav Krishtofovich's 1998 film A Friend of the Deceased portrays the ethical maelstrom of post-communist society, in which individuals can be both family men and hit men at the same time. Indeed, if the first Brother abounds in ambiguity and unanswered questions&mdashDanila himself is portrayed as a tabula rasa on which anything can be written&mdashThe Brother II seems rather to hearken back to the totalitarian aesthetics of an earlier time. In this regard, it hardly seems accidental that the film consciously recalls the 1934 hit film Chapaev, which was made the same year that Socialist Realism became the official method of all Soviet art. Similarly, Balabanov's positive portrayal of the character Fashist nostalgically invokes the other totalitarian ideology of the same period&mdashwith its myth of the martial (Teutonic) clan locked in combat with a racially impure Other. Not simply an appeal to the viewer to "return to the better days of Soviet history," the film suggests a shift away from Balabanov's individual artistic vision toward the "total" aesthetics and ideology of the 1930s. In this paper, I will examine the ways in which The Brother II recalls various aspects of both Stalinist and Nazi ideology. Thus Danila Bagrov is no longer the morally untethered and ambiguous anti-hero of the first film, but a child-like Nietzschean super-hero in the spirit of Serezha shcherbachev from Gaidar's Fate of the Drummer-Boy or of chapaev himself. Similarly, the image of a racially pure, geographically localizable clan (bratva) battling the power of Capital has clear roots in the Nazi ideology of the 30s. Finally, in his shift away from moral ambiguity toward a simplistic vision of good vs. evil, Balabanov seems to look longingly backward toward the poetics of Socialist Realism.