"4" takes its most oddball turn, becoming akin to a nightmare, when Marina gets to her old village. The town survives off the dolls its largely geriatric, moonshine-swilling female population makes, using chewed bread to form the faces. Marina's sister was the only one skilled enough to mold the masticated dough, and her death leaves the rest in dire straits. As both a response to the passing of their meal ticket, and perhaps because they have nothing else to do, the elderly women descend into debauchery rivaling the ancient Romans. (Booze, breasts and roast pig abound. Enough said.) Volodya and Oleg's stories are tame in contrast, though not without their discomfiting qualities. All in all, "4" doesn't quite equal the sum of its parts, its allegorical machinations unable to merge to form a comprehensible theme. But it remains a bold visual exercise, full of industrial pathos and existential torpor. And creepy old ladies. Don't forget the creepy old ladies. Starring Marina Vovchenko, Segey Shnurov and Yuri Laguta. Directed by Ilya Khrzhanovsky. Written by Vladimir Sorokin. Produced by Yelena Yatsura. A Leisure Time release. Drama. Russian-language; subtitled. Unrated. Running time: 126 min
The very first minute of "4" threatens greatness: A pack of wild dogs hangs around on a damp, cold Moscow street in early morning darkness, minding their own business, when suddenly four enormous pile drivers crash down beside them, sending them scattering away in fear. It's a chilling, portentous start to Ilya Khrzhanovsky's impressive debut feature, although he's never quite able -- no matter how hard he tries -- to maintain that initial surrealist touch. But try he does, alternating between three tales: Marina (Marina Vovchenko), a prostitute, journeys from the city to her home village to attend a funeral for one of her three sisters; after a night on the town, Volodya the piano tuner (Segey Shnurov) winds up the prime suspect in a murder investigation; and Oleg (Yuri Laguta), who seems to be making out the best of the three as a purveyor of frozen meat, deals with his slightly nutty father, who boils his dinner no matter how many times he asks for alternate preparation.