Though "Taxi Blues" has been reaping great praise in some corners, I was rather put off by its mundane plotting, it's ill treatment of women and a pair of leading characters who are difficult to like and whose stories seem to have no real point.
This episodic, vaguely symbolic yarn about a macho, male chauvinist cabbie and his unlikely relationship with a self-absorbed, alcoholic musician, wallows in decadence without ever exploring it.And since the musician is Jewish and a hero of the intelligentsia, while the cabbie is crass and working class, you might expect some exploration of class differences or perhaps of racism. But, other than an occasional anti-Semitic aside, nothing of the sort ever happens.
The story begins with the cabbie, Chlykov, taking the musician, Lyosha, and a bunch of his friends around Moscow all night in search of a party. But when they finally give up, Chlykov is stiffed for the huge fare they run up, despite Lyosha promising him both the fare and big tip.
So, the next day, Chlykov tracks Lyosha down, punches him out and takes away his saxophone - a ransom. Of course, Lyosha tries to point out that without his sax he has no way to earn money.
Over the course of the film's two hours this extremely odd couple develops a relationship of sorts as they get together and go their separate ways a number of times. And Chlykov makes Lyosha work off his debt in humiliating ways.
Nonetheless, some sort of mutual respect seems to grow between them as they repeatedly get drunk together and yell at each other.
None of this is as annoying, however, as the treatment received by women in this film.
The only female characters of note are the respective girlfriends of Chlykov and Lyosha and at one point we see Lyosha force himself on his girlfriend, then later Chlykov does the same thing to his girlfriend. In each scene the girlfriend fights her boyfriend off at first and then succumbs. The scene with Chlykov is particularly disturbing since there is no question that it begins as a rape. During his brutal attack the camera cuts away for a moment, then, when it returns, the woman is enjoying herself with no small amount of enthusiasm.
If, metaphorically, Chlykov represents old Russia and Lyosha the new freedom, what then do the women represent?
As an example of post-glasnost art, "Taxi Blues" shows just how much the Soviet Union has opened up, since there are negative attitudes that question life in the USSR and R-rated excesses, which just a few years ago would never have allowed. But filmmaker Pavel Lounguine's treatise seems to be that Moscow has succumbed to decadence with a vengeance - or maybe the ugliness portrayed here is just how he sees life in general.
Though unrated, "Taxi Blues" would easily get an R for considerable violence, sex, nudity, profanity, vulgarity and drugs.