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THE GREEN ELEPHANT

A fitfully vile bit of arty sleaze that fits in well with high-minded sickies like VIVA LA MUERTE and SALO with its abundance of gore, scatology and general unpleasantness.

The Package
     This oft-banned Russian film (original title: ZELYONYY SLONIK) hails from 1999. Its director was Svetlana Baskova, a staunchly underground filmmaker known for provocative feminist-minded fare like FIVE BOTTLES OF VODKA, THE HEAD and COKKI THE RUNNING DOCTOR. THE GREEN ELEPHANT, which has never been released in the U.S. (although a subtitled copy can be found on YouTube), was her second feature, and surely her magnum opus.

The Story
     Two military officers, one a colonel and the other a subordinate, carry on an expletive-filled chat inside an unidentified military detention center. The talk naturally centers around violence, alcohol and sex, and grows increasingly heated. Before long the roles are reversed and the subordinate begins physically abusing his superior. Yet their respective ranks reassert themselves, and the subordinate is forced to clean a filthy toilet with a fork(?).
     The scatological angle is continued when the colonel takes a dump and then smears the results on his torso. Having apparently gone completely mad, he offers the remaining excrement to his cellmate, but the latter is understandably put off by the request.
     Two more men, both military superiors, are called into the cell. One of them puts the subordinate to work cleaning up the mess made by the colonel, while the latter is sternly lectured about the error of his ways.
     More insanity follows, including sodomy, asphyxiation, piss drinking, throat ripping and intestine pulling, as the lunacy infecting the colonel spreads to his companions and the film turns into an outrageously gory free-for-all.

The Direction
     That director Svetlana Baskova was seeking to make some kind of statement about male aggression--Russian male aggression in particular--is evident in the almost laughably profane dialogue, which often sounds like a parody of macho guy talk (terms like “faggot” and “bitch” are freely utilized).
     The proceedings are marked by handheld camerawork that constantly weaves and wobbles, apparently to jazz up the cramped setting and overabundance of dialogue. At times the effect is interesting, but for the most part the spastic camerawork feels desperate and amateurish; much of the action plays out in wide shots when close-ups would have been preferable, and vice-versa. The heavy metal guitar riffs that frequently fill the soundtrack further enhance the amateurish air (such tunes being the preferred soundtrack of no-budget splatter films in the U.S.).
     Also featured is extensive black and white footage of unrelated characters going about their day-to-day business intercut with the main action, possibly to lend the highly contained proceedings a sense of universality. But what precisely is the reason for all the vileness? It doesn’t seem to serve any dramatic purpose other than to maintain interest in a film that would otherwise be a completely inert snooze-fest.

 
Vital Statistics

THE GREEN ELEPHANT (ZELYONYY SLONIK)
Supernova Group

Director: Svetlana Baskova
Producer: Svetlana Baskova, Oleg Mavromatti
Screenplay: Svetlana Baskova
Cast: Vladimir Epifantsev, Aleksandr Maslaev, Anatoly Osmolovsky, Sergei Pakhomov
 

     

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