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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'The Spirit' Makes Silent Descent

Lenfilm studio's latest release, "Dukh" or "The Spirit," starring versatile singer Maxim Leonidov as a German in a straw-colored wig, ghosted into Moscow last week, registering only the barest flicker of interest among the press and cinemagoing public.

ORT-Video, who distributed "Blokpost" ("Blockpost") and "Perekryostok" ("The Crossroads") with slightly more success this year, will at least be consoled that this disastrously marketed but deserving film had an appropriate name. No one seemed to know where or what it was.

"I hear Maxim Leonidov has returned to the screen. Can this be true?" asked one baffled reader in the current issue of the popular weekly Versiya.

It is true, and the movie represents a fine return to the silver screen for the reinvented German-speaking Leonidov, as I and the five other viewers with me at the plush 700-seater Udarnik movie theater were able to report.

The plot is fun, if a little derivative. A spoilt aristocrat, Maximilian von Stoltz (Leonidov) has had his fill of drinking and whoring in Germany and decides in an alcoholic haze to saddle a plane for Russian shores in a partially realized spin-off of the Matthius Rust landing in 1987 on Red Square. Presumably for budgetary reasons, however, we only get to see Leonidov land directly in prison where he's slung in a cell with Dukh, an Afghanistan veteran (played by Igor Chernevich) who's facing maximum punishment for multiple murder; he earned his nickname by being registered dead at the end of the war and has a Rasputin-like untouchability about him.

An untalkable psycho, this dead soul brings Leonidov little comfort until he needs the German to help him in a breakout operation. Next thing we know, the unlikely pair are driving out to freedom and road-movie heaven, finding gratification in one another's terrible company and making half-hearted efforts to overcome the language barrier.

A genuinely surreal and often original film, "Dukh," rather like that other 1999 breakout movie "Mama," has all the elements of an action movie without ever really resembling one. Director Yevgeny Ivanov emphasizes psychology as much as action and the contrast between the eloquent, dissatisfied aristocrat and the incorrigible criminal who "just wants to be left alone" is engrossing. The cell scenes, shot in black-and-white, show the two men inevitably stepping into one another's habits and personal territory just as they try to defend them, while the road sequence, as they become more dependent on each other is as emotionally convincing as it is improbable.

In a film with no real supporting actors, Leonidov and Chernevich do an excellent job of holding our attention. Despite the wig, there is much to admire about Leonidov's Onegin-like rendition of a worldweary, philosophizing moneybags, betraying the singer's training as an actor. The two professions go hand in hand though: Leonidov wrote the soundtrack for the film, and during it plays the sax and gives a preview of the song "Volki" from his upcoming album.

As the unholy spirit, Chernevich never lets the movie turn into a Leonidov vehicle and his performance as the unpredictable and ultimately reformed sicko is perhaps the best thing about this enjoyable, if somewhat strange, piece of filmmaking.

"Dukh" shows Monday to Wednesday at 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 p.m. at the Baikonur movie theater, 17 Ulitsa Dekabristov. Tel: 404-51-59. Metro: Otradnoye. The video is due out in autumn although the Gorbushka market tends to be more efficient.