Not all advertising satires feature drug-fueled visions and a Mesopotamian dog god named “Phukkup.” Behold Generation P, a brain-melting film of Victor Peleven’s pre-millennial Russian cult novel. Set in the wake of the USSR’s dissolution, the narrative centers on Babilen (Vladimir Epifancev), who goes from mulleted convenience store clerk to advertising whiz, which is only the first five minutes. The fall of Communism means Western products will be flooding a once-barren market. These wares require catchy peddling, for which Babilen displays an innate talent. He also starts taking hallucinogenics and asking Che Guevara for marketing advice via Ouija board.
This is only scraping the surface: I haven’t even mentioned Babilen’s drug-fueled discovery of Babylonian occultism or how he applies mocap technology to politics, creating a Baudrillardian alterna-world of fake pols that play on the nightly news as fact. Peleven squeezed all this into 256 pages, while director/co-adapter Victor Ginzburg, even with just under two hours, hurtles, breakneck, through an absurdly dense plot, telling it with a comic, anything-can-and-does-sometimes-happen sensibility. His scenes are hectic, handheld melees of sudden, bizarre plot turns, phantasmagoric hallucinations and constant Russian pop culture name-dropping.
Ginzburg’s only other feature is 1994’s The Restless Garden, a doc examining the Soviet sexual revolution. He has a deep, bemused understanding of a society used to being throttled around and manipulated by mutating socio-political structures–so deep, in fact, that he doesn’t feel the need to didactically explain everything to non-Russian viewers. Much of Generation P will go over the heads of its audience, even its admirers, and the confusion is, depending on your temperament, fun or maddening. Or both.
The book and film set up what looks like a knock-‘em-down ad satire that winds up more interested in disappearing up its own ass. An already crazy picture turns fairly indescribable by the time our hero–who, no matter how high he climbs the corporate ladder, always stays rooted in his hippie/Buddhist/druggy roots–is walking around a gold mock-Egyptian temple in a feather dress with blood on his forehead. That it still serves a nasty blow to advertising, even while summoning up the wicked spirit of Andrew Niccol’s dreaded S1mone and while seemingly high on its own kind of pharmaceuticals, is most impressive.