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Blu-Ray : Recommended
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Release Date: November 29th, 2022 Movie Release Year: 1988


Overview -

Originally submitted as the Soviet entry for the Best Foreign Language Film in the 62nd Academy Awards in 1990, Karen Shakhnazarov’s surrealist comedy Zerograd (translates to Zero City) takes the piss out of Communism and its many failings in hysterical fashion. If Monty Python had to operate within the artistic confines of Soviet-era Russia, then you might be on the right path toward Zerograd’s unique sad absurdity. Deaf Crocodile presents the film on Blu-ray with a great 2K restoration and an hour-long interview with Shakhnazarov that rounds out this release quite nicely. Despite lacking additional special features, except for an audio commentary by Samm Deighan, this foreign gem is ripe for discovery, thus this release comes Recommended!

Part Kafka, part Agatha Christie and part Monty Python, director Karen Shakhnazarov’s surreal satire of Communism follows an Everyman engineer named Varakin (Leonid Filatov) who arrives in a remote city where nothing quite makes sense, but everyone acts as if it does. He’s quickly drawn into the investigation of the suicide (or possibly murder?) of a local restaurant chef, Nikolaev – who may (or may not) be Varakin’s missing father. The more complex and absurdist the mystery becomes, the more poignant and plaintive Varakin’s predicament – “I have to get back to Moscow,” he pleads to no avail. Along the way we’re treated to a bizarre and wonderful sideshow of non sequiturs out of a Wes Anderson film, including an underground museum filled with a thousand years of real and imagined Russian history (“Here’s the pistol with which Urusov shot the False Dimitry II.”) Frozen in time, frozen far beneath the surface, the waxwork figures are strangely beautiful and forlorn, like Shakhnazarov’s marvelous and enigmatic satire of Soviet bureaucracy. With music by the great Eduard Artemyev (SOLARIS, STALKER).

directed by: Karen Shakhnazarov
starring: Leonid Filatov, Oleg Basilashvili, Vladimir Menshov, Armen Dzhigarkhanyan, Evgeniy Evstigneev
1988 / 103 min / 1.37:1 / Russian DTS-HD MA 2.0

Additional info:

  • Region A Blu-ray
  • New 2K restoration from the original 35mm picture and sound elements by Mosfilm
  • New video interview with director/co-writer Karen Shakhnazarov, moderated by Dennis Bartok of Deaf Crocodile Films
  • New commentary track by film journalist Samm Deighan (Diabolique magazine, Daughters of Darkness podcast)
  • New booklet essay by filmmaker, writer, punk musician and genre expert Chris D (The Flesh Eaters; author of Outlaw Masters of Japanese Film)
  • English subtitles

Purchase Original Edition From Vinegar Syndrome.

Rating Breakdown
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
Blu-ray Disc
Video Resolution/Codec:
1080p AVC/MPEG-4
Aspect Ratio(s):
Release Date:
November 29th, 2022

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take


Soviet-era cinema sure got weird during Perestroika, the attempt to end the Era of Stagnation by the restructuring of the Soviet political and economic system by Gorbachev. For the historians in the room, the parallels between Gorbachev’s attempt and Stalin’s first Five Year Plan are abundantly clear, and that “history is doomed to repeat itself” mood carries itself into Shakhnazarov’s Zerograd. Shakhnazarov is now the Director General of Mosfilm, yet that only cracks at the surface of the massive contributions that the filmmaker has given to Russian cinema. In addition to being a talented filmmaker in his own right, he worked under Russian iconoclasts like Sergei Bondarchuk as an assistant. That should posit just how important artistic expression is to Shakhnazarov.

In comes Zerograd (AKA Zero City), a film that pulls off the difficult task of capturing that still and disquieting period in the Soviet Union when a nation’s identity was undefined, or rather a haunting mash-up of policies that are frozen in time from Stalin’s rule and the struggle to define the future. But at the heart of Zerograd is the mournful everyman, an engineer named Varakin (Leonid Filatov), who is sent to a remote city to specify to a distributor the dimensions of a new part that Moscow needs. But soon, Varakin is enveloped in a complex and absurdist mystery revolving around the suicide of a local restaurant chef. As things get weirder, poignancy builds within Varakin’s predicament. Will he ever escape?

To avoid spoiling the film’s many quirky, unexplainable events, I’d like to focus on the strange, languid pace and trajectory of the story. Varakin enters and exits situations at first what looks like a somewhat-disgruntled, plaintive everyman, but soon it feels more like a ghost overseeing everything. These situations, with anger and anxiety born from the string of upheavals throughout Soviet history. What’s left is the ruins, and the storytellers struggling to describe what it feels like to live under a bureaucracy and national identity that’s always in flux. Therefore, the museums describing history become warped by lies, and the truth that’s left confounds.

Despite how heady everything sounds above, Zerograd coasts along very whimsically and deftly tows the line between surrealist resolve and in-your-face absurdity. With music by Eduard Artemyev, the composer behind Solaris and Stalker, what’s on screen is supplanted by discordant stylings that only add to the mystery. If you’re a fan at all of Russian cinema, then Zero City should be on your list to watch.

Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-rays
The journey to Zerograd is given life with a one-disc (BD50) Blu-ray release that comes housed in a clear Viva case with a reversible sleeve showcasing different poster art. The Blu-ray disc boots up to a standard menu screen with a clip from the film playing on a loop in the background, with the options to play the film, select scenes, set up audio and video, and explore extras.

Video Review


You’re sure to enjoy the ride across Zerograd with this 1080p presentation sourced from a new 2K restoration of original 35mm picture and sound elements by Mosfilm. Mosfilm in general does a great job at restoring their catalog, and that’s immediately apparent in the opening minutes. Black levels are excellent and contrast is tuned just right, which you can tell clearly in a lot of the interior shots. Zerograd in general has those flat, drained-out Soviet-era colors, and they’re frequently punctuated by something just a touch more vibrant. The encode handles this all capably and a somewhat-thick layer of grain is naturally resolved in it all.

Audio Review


The enigmatic nature of Zerograd extends to the soundtrack, so it’s nice to have a pleasing 2.0 DTS-HD MA audio track accompanying the great presentation. Eduard Artemyev’s discordant score is distributed nicely across the front channels, with dialogue coming through clearly and foley effects adding just the right amount of punch. I didn’t observe much hiss or damage, so I imagine the original sound elements must have been in good condition.

Special Features


As for special features, the hour-long Q&A with Shakhnazarov is filled with anecdotes about the film and the Russian film industry at large. In particular, hearing him talk about the lack of censorship during the production of the film really stuck out. Dennis Bartok of Deaf Crocodile Films guides the conversation and not much flab is added to the runtime because of the need to translate Shakhnazarov live. There’s a great anecdote about how the original film elements for War and Peace were in such bad condition that they almost lost the film. Unfortunately, it is a Zoom interview and has limitations because of that, but it’s still a great feature that’s worth seeking out.

  • Video interview with director/co-writer Karen Shakhnazarov, moderated by Dennis Bartok of Deaf Crocodile Films (HD, 57:05)
  • Audio Commentary featuring film journalist Samm Deighan (Diabolique magazine, Daughters of Darkness podcast)
  • Booklet essay by Chris D. (The Flesh Eaters; author of Outlaw Masters of Japanese Film)

Final Thoughts

Ready for a trip to Zerograd? Deaf Crocodile is your guide with a one-disc Blu-ray release that’s rounded out nicely by an hour-long interview with director/writer Karen Shakhnazarov. Although there aren’t many special features, this underseen Russian film arrives in a stellar presentation and is ready to confound American audiences. This release comes Recommended!