Russia’s post-Soviet gold rush, a free-for-all that spawned oligarchs, Chechen mob operators and a violent sense of national unraveling, is the perfect setting for a movie—a nouveau riche Western, perhaps. Victor Ginzburg’s surreal drama is the closest we’ve come to taking a sip from that firehose of economic chaos. Our hero, twentyish poet Babylen (Vladimir Epifantsev), fondly remembers a uniformed childhood when Pepsi (the P of the title) was a far-off dream. The plot has him morphing from a kiosk merchant into a bold new god: an adman who hastens the dawning consumerist mania, introducing products and politicians (some of them wholly virtual) with vacant efficiency. Babylen is told to believe in nothing. When pushed, he admits to an ethos: “I like it when life has big tits.”
Victor Peleven’s 1999 satirical novel has, at least at home, taken on the status of a prescient classic, like Martin Amis’s Money or Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities. It’s not for everyone. Many of the details crammed onto the screen will mystify most viewers (the adaptation feels too faithful), and even those hip to Russian malaise will be hanging on for dear life through druggy fantasies, hyperactive cigarette commercials and a Mesopotamian orgy. Yet there’s exhilaration in a film that lustily grabs for the live wire, indicting a society-wide glibness while somehow flattering its audience. Generation P is worth struggling through, even if it boggles you. In many ways, it’s a keyhole into the future of the entire world.
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