The film Брат, or Brother, is a Russian crime drama that follows the life of Danila Bagrov, an ex-conscript who finds himself involved with the St. Petersburg mob. Directed by Aleksei Balabanov, the film released in 1997 at the Cannes Film Festival. It was recognized in the section ‘Un Certain Regard’, which spotlights unorthodox storylines seeking international recognition. Although the film had a budget of only $10,000, it far exceeded expectations, and scored a whopping $1.4 million in box office sales. It became one of the most popular films in Russia during the 1990’s and is regarded as a cult classic there to this day.
Hero or Villain?
The film Brother is not your average crime film, and the protagonist, Danila, is not your average criminal. Throughout the film, we see his morals being tested, constantly pinned in a battle between right and wrong. Although these decisions are often difficult for him, to the audience, Danila is the perfect anti-hero. Despite engaging in violence and other extreme behavior, it remains obvious that he has good intentions, and is simply making the best choice given his circumstances.
Throughout the film, Danila takes on an almost Robinhood-esque persona, with the key word being almost. Although he is seen serving vigilante justice on criminals and feeding the homeless he also has a much darker side. These actions show signs of morality, and that he has somewhat of a good conscience. When contrasted with his engagement in activities like murder and womanizing, however, the audience is faced with the question: “is he a hero or a villain?”. This question is asked throughout the film, but I think it goes much deeper than good vs. evil.
Right down to the name of the film, there is a strong focus on brotherhood. Although the relationship between Danila and his older brother Viktor is complicated, it is clear they have a strong bond. Danila is influenced by Viktor’s involvement in crime, in fact, he is the reason for Danila’s involvement in the first place. This may explain the internal conflict he constantly faces between doing right and wrong. Even though his heart is in the right place, and his moral compass is somewhat intact, Danila’s loyalty to his brother comes first.
Music is also an extremely prevalent theme in the film, and in many ways represents Danila’s good side. We see him frequent a music store, making friends with a girl that works there, who allows him to regularly borrow CD’s. These moments of purity and kindness are few and far between, but frequent enough that they emphasize Danila’s positive traits. He is also constantly seen carrying a Walkman, one that later gets hit by a bullet, possibly saving his life. This further reinforces music as a projection of Danila’s innocence, as it is one of the only things separating him from the cold-blooded killers he faces, both literally and figuratively.
It is not until near the end of the film where we see his brother finally rely on Danila. He is tasked with saving Viktor’s life, which (spoiler alert) he does, but this turning of the tide is important. This change signifies Danila’s freedom from his brother’s choices and his ability to make his own. Following this scene, we see Danila tie up loose ends and head for Moscow to start a new life. A brief shot of his gun, however, suggests that he is not entirely done with this life of violence; perhaps it is all he knows. This inference also left room for a potential sequel, which released in 2000.
Ultimately, Danila’s ability to navigate the criminal life with some morality proves to set him apart from his foes. Although he is not the perfect hero, Danila clearly embodies the traits of a classic anti-hero. His relationships in the film paint a picture of a young man looking for his place in a chaotic world. Brother is a masterfully produced crime film, especially given its budget, and clearly sets itself apart from similar films.
If you’ve read this far, I strongly urge you to check out the film. It is available to stream for free on YouTube, and has English subtitles available as well. I will attach the link here if you are interested in watching. Thanks for reading!