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EASTERN PROMISES

Director: DAVID CRONENBERG

U.K.-U.S.A.-CANADA • 2007 • COLOUR • DOLBY DIGITAL STEREO • 100 MIN


IN THIS COMPANION PIECE TO A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, DIRECTOR DAVID CRONENBERG AND LEAD ACTOR VIGGO MORTENSEN AGAIN USE A TAUT CRIME THRILLER FRAMEWORK TO EXPLORE THE DARK PSYCHOLOGICAL UNDERCURRENTS OF VIOLENCE, MASCULINITY AND IDENTITY.
When a 14-year-old Russian prostitute dies during childbirth, the safe middle class world of North London midwife Anna Khitrova (Naomi Watts) collides with the dangerous underworld of the Vory V Zakone crime brotherhood. The only clues to the girl’s death are her diary, written in Russian, and a card from the Trans-Siberian Restaurant presided over by the avuncular Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl). It is at this kitsch, nostalgic eatery that Watts first encounters Semyon’s psychopathic son, Kirill (Vincent Cassel), and the family’s sartorially severe chauffeur, Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen). Insidious threats soon give way to something far more menacing, as Anna stumbles into a sordid world of prostitution, people trafficking and modern-day slavery.
Although scripted by Steve Knight, who wrote Stephen Frears’ Dirty Pretty Things, this study of shifting loyalties, fluid identity and bodily violence is quintessentially Cronenbergian. Peter Suschitzky’s cinematography evokes a stygian, self-contained underworld with its own codes and rituals. A world where identity is defined by symbolic prison tattoos, one’s place in a complex hierarchy of power, and a violent masculinity based on a hatred of women and fear of homosexuality. An appalling scene of carnal sex and a vicious, bone-crunching fight in a steam room express this ambiguity brilliantly. Like the elaborate tattoos that decorate Nikolai’s muscular body, Eastern Promises gets under your skin and leaves an indelible mark.—Nigel Floyd.

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