Pyotr Buslov's Bumer (the Russian equivalent of "beamer"), released in August 2003, opens with a BMW 750 sedan parked in a dimly lit alley in a Russian city. Two thieves, Kostya (Brigada's Vladimir Vdovichenkov) and Petya (Sergei Gorobchenko) easily steal the car, and drive it to a chop shop. When they arrive, they decide to keep the BMW and have their mechanic forge new plates and serial numbers for the engine. While driving from the chop shop, a cop pulls them over and takes them to the station, where they pay a $1,000 bribe and are released. After a hard night of stealing cars, Kostya goes home to his devoted wife Nastya (Anastasiya Sapozhnikova), who is sick of Kostya's criminal lifestyle, and wants to leave Russia for good.
Just when the couple are about to argue about emigrating again, Kostya's cellphone rings (this movie ringtone later became a pop hit song) with a frantic call from his brat Dimon (Andrei Merzlikin). Dimon had been driving all over the road in his white Mercedes when he nearly collided with a group of gangsters. These heavies forced him to pull over, beat him up, and stole his car. Dimon needs Kostya and the other "brothers" help to get his car back. Lyokha (Maksim Konovalov) and Petya track down the gang that stole their friend's car, and they barge into the gangsters' offices. When the gangsters start trading insults and threats, Lyokha pulls a pistol and shoots a man dead.
Lyokha (Maksim Konovalov) with an itchy trigger finger
The four "brothers" flee the city in their BMW, hoping to lay low until they can figure out what bribes they need to pay to get out of trouble. As soon as they reach the countryside, the four men immediately discover how crazy Russia can get. Short on cash, they barter a stolen car stereo and a baseball bat with the gas station attendant for filling up. Later, we see the kid from the gas station using their baseball bat to smash car windows and hit people for fun.
One of the reasons I liked this movie is that it shows you what happens with each minor character the four main characters meet along the way. This movie is similar to Russian novels in the sense that many of the most memorable characters play bit parts in the whole drama (click here for a Russian-language page with pics of the complete cast).
While on the road, Kostya calls a friend back home to check in and discovers that the man his "brother" shot dead was in fact an undercover FSB officer. Besides being pursued by the mafia, the four thieves are now wanted by the FSB, who are not known for letting cop-killers live. As they drive deeper into the countryside, two local cops pull them over and plant drugs in their sedan so they can demand bribes, but the thieves have no money. The rapacious cops get their just desserts when Kostya steals the money they've collected in bribes from under their noses. Later, we see the fat cop drunkenly stumbling into a bear trap.
At a truck stop, the four thieves are plotting to get money by stealing a trucker's freight when a gang of local thugs muscles in on it. The truckers try to pay off the locals but the four thieves unexpectedly show up. Dimon impresses the local thugs by treating one of the truckers as his subordinate and beating him for show. The would-be highwaymen back off, cursing the Muscovites who have now hired themselves to pull "security" for a truckload of vodka.
At the truckers' camp that night, the four tired thieves are savagely ambushed in retaliation for their "help" earlier in the day. The truckers stab Dimon with a screwdriver, slash the BMW's tires, and the four thieves barely escape with their lives. One of their attackers later gets his just desserts when a jack slips and he is crushed by his own truck cab. The idea of nemesis retribution or the evil eye plays out throughout the movie. In the absence of law or mercy, all the characters are plunged into a Hobbesian war of all against all, not even certain that they can trust their bratva.
The "Bumer" stuck in the snow
After escaping the angry truckers, the thieves flag down an old ambulance that is being used by a peasant to haul lettuce. They are desperate to reach a hospital, but there is none for hundreds of miles, so they are directed to the local witchdoctor. On the way, the BMW gets bogged down in the Russian mud and the brothers have to carry Dimon for several miles through the woods to the village where the witch lives. The village has no electricity or running water and only has two young people, the pretty blonde Katka (Yana Nikolayeva) and a drunken army cook (Vasili Sedykh). The thieves have to give up their city clothes for peasant garb but as Dimon recovers from his terrible wound, they find their primitive surroundings almost idyllic. The witch on the other hand, tells them that she is no fool, and can see that they're all going to die.
Kostya carries Petya after a botched bank robbery
While even Muscovites would find some of Bumer's depictions of rural Russia as a savage, xenophobic and gangster-ridden wilderness to be extreme, most Westerners would find this picture overwhelming -- it makes Deliverance look tame and cheesy in comparison. First time director Pyotr Buslov takes what could easily have been a buddy movie about a band of Russian hoodlums and strips it of sentimentalism -- the word suka is used so often it becomes wearisome. While Kostya is clearly the leader who keeps the group together, we don't see his heroism until the closing scene, which is really the opening scene of Bumer 2 (released in March 2006).
Pyotr Buslov at the premier of his movie in 2003
The U.S. strategist Thomas P.M. Barnett see Russia as part of a "New Core" of nations gradually being integrated into the global economy, but this movie is a reminder that the vast majority of Russia is still stuck in Barnett's "non-integrating Gap". The movie reminds us that fear of outsiders is not limited to foreigners but to fellow Russians from the cities as well. For this rural Russia, violence and bribes are still accepted as part of life and no czars, commissars, or well-intentioned Western-backed reformers have been able to change this mentality in five hundred years. But it is also true that this is the Russia that is fading away as young people migrate to the growing cities.
Vladimir Vdovichenkov, one of the top young stars in Russia
Actor Sergei Gorobchenko, who plays Petya
Watch a music video with clips from the movie here (WARNING: Graphic violence):
DJ Slon's remix of the "cellphone" theme from the Bumer film soundtrack. This cellphone ringtone is still very popular in Moscow. Several songs from the original soundtrack are done by the St. Petersburg-based ska punk/chanson band Leningrad