The Stoker (15) 87 mins ***
Not to be confused with the recent Park Chan-wook/Nicole Kidman curio, but a return to UK cinemas for Russian provocateur Aleksey Balabanov, whose Of Freaks and Men gained a cult reputation back in 2000. His latest is no less bizarre: a pitch-black allegory about an Afghan War veteran employed as a factory stoker. In exchange for paper on which he tentatively pecks out a novel, the stoker (Mikhail Skryabin, wirily touching) allows local heavies to burn corpses in his furnace – at least until matters get personal, and the deal requires renegotiation. It’s full of idiosyncratic, almost suicidal choices – a noodly-poodly guitar score, inexpressive actors, doll-like actresses – yet weirdly cuts to the heart of a country that’s been taken over by such wholly unlovely characters. In materialistic, surface-weighted structures, Balabanov suggests, subterranean workers and artists risk being crushed. Pussy Riot, anyone? Dhaka, even?
The Stoker is in selected cinemas nationwide.