The Glamorous Life

Paradise GroupThe eponymous protagonist (Pavel Volya) plays a pimp who serves moscow oligarchs.
Vartan Akopyan's "Platon" is the latest installment in a loose series of Russian films that expose the dark, emotional underbelly of Moscow's supposedly glamorous high-society life. Like "Platon," films such as Filipp Yankovsky's 2002 "In Motion," Yelena Nikolayeva's "Popsa" from 2005 or Andrei Konchalovsky's "Gloss" from last year have centered on the most visible elements of elite social circles -- sex, money, nightlife, fashion, etc.

All these films have, in different ways and with varying degrees of success, tried to balance this portrait of "glamorous" society with a sense of its spiritual emptiness, particularly in developing the characters of their central protagonists. The paradox is how the audience reacts to that double equation -- do they fall for the glitter, or do they sympathize with the central emotional subtext?

The loose precedent for all these is certainly Federico Fellini's 1960 classic "La Dolce Vita," in which the central character is a journalist in Rome who hangs on the edges of local high society and effectively loses his soul in the process. Yankovsky's "In Motion" essentially remade the story 40 years later, with a journalist hero played by Konstantin Khabensky who goes down a similar path.

"Platon" chooses a rather bleaker context than that of tabloid journalism. The film's eponymous hero (played by Pavel Volya, star of television show "Comedy Club") is basically a high-class pimp, catering to the sexual desires of his oligarch clients and living a risk-filled life by manipulating the expectations of the women he brings into the business. (The alleged philandering by a certain prominent Russian magnate at the Courchevel ski resort a few years ago inevitably comes to mind.)

There's plenty of humor along the way, though whether you find it funny in the end is an entirely different question. One scene sees the consequences of an inadvertent setup in which the lady concerned turns out to be a transvestite. Another has Platon supposedly auditioning girls in a provincial city for what he promises to be the new Nikita Mikhalkov film, when in fact they are to be the latest batch of high-class hookers to be sent off to Moscow.

Various subplots crop up, the most notable of which involves Dagestani oligarch Abdul (Multar Gusengadzhiev), who's clearly a regular client and leads a lifestyle that parodies New Russian existence well. Things start to go wrong when Platon meets Lyuba (Elizaveta Lotova), a young woman who works in a fancy Moscow boutique but does not share the shallow values of those she sells her brand-name outfits to. Platon develops a new kind of attraction to her even though his initial task is to set her up with Abdul for a romantic lunch.

Volya plays well -- he is a commanding screen presence with a lean, hungry look to him. Always on the go, he careens around Moscow in a mobile-office minibus in the company of his two sidekicks, Pitbull and Banderas. Whether that's true to life or a conscious parody is the kind of question on which the reading of the film hinges. Is it simply reflecting the surrounding context or is it satirizing it? In any case, Volya is sadly no match on the emotional front for Marcello Mastroianni from Fellini's film.

Near the end of the film, the action moves to London, where the precarious balance in this loose threesome breaks down. Accompanying it is another humorous subplot, in which two of Abdul's relations are sent out by the Dagestani family patriarch to bring their prodigal son back into the domestic fold. Serbian-born director Emir Kusturica deserves a nod for that kind of offbeat rural comedy.

Everything is convincing in terms of cinematography and music, and while some of the figures on the outer edges of the story do not lead such vapid lives, harboring uncertainties of sentiment that one might empathize with, it would be a major stretch to feel anything for the central characters. Their world seems an emotional void -- a heart of darkness where there is no heart.