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A Friend of the Deceased (1998)

MPAA Rating: R

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EW's GRADE
A-

Details Rated: R; Genre: Drama

One of the few growth industries in the untethered, post-Communist, Wild West-style Ukraine is, apparently, that of contract killing. Tired of scrambling unsuccessfully for work as a translator and depressed by his wife's unfaithfulness, Anatoli (soulfully handsome Alexandre Lazarev), the shambling hero of Vyacheslav Krishtofovich's laconic, ironic, engaging comic drama about the human coldness that has swept in with capitalism, hires a hitman to do himself in. But his troubles really compound when he changes his mind. Anatoli spends a lot of time in A Friend of the Deceased smoking, drinking little cups of coffee, and waiting for his phone to ring, but his lassitude is interrupted by a procession of terrific characters — a perky prostitute, a pretty widow, a rival hitman — each of whom displays aspects of the Ukrainian survival instinct in all its ruthless vigor. The result is a sophisticated film that distills political theory to basics — trust, friendship, livelihood, and a reason to live. A-

Originally posted May 15, 1998 Published in issue #432 May 15, 1998 Order article reprints