Viktor Shamanov has been in prison for most of his adult life. When he was young he was active in working his way up through the Russian mob, and his time was cut short when he was caught and convicted of murder. Him being the eldest of about six siblings (or about that number), Viktor became a figure that some of the younger children were too young to ever recall having met even though they always knew who and what he was. Despite him being the family’s primary bread winner from his criminal activities their overall attitude towards him ranges from slight fear to moderate graciousness. Some are holding on to twenty-plus year old secrets they need to confess to, some are looking for a way out of their life and into Viktor’s (called Shaman in the mob circles), and some want nothing to do with him. For all of them though they will get their wish (except those who want nothing to do with him), because he’s been released from prison and is on his way home to quickly reunite with his family that’s on the broken brinks.
On Viktor’s tails are a group of professionally hired gunmen who were aware of his release and a foreknowledge of where he might be headed. They conspicuously get the nearest hotel to the Shamanov family’s farmhouse, and await his return. In the meantime the family prepares for Grandfather’s birthday (confined to a wheelchair in his old age and can’t speak, presumably from a stroke) and use their short time with Viktor to work out their issues, even those that don’t directly involve him. Also in dire need of a reunion is Svetka, who had a relationship with Shaman before he was sent away and has kept in touch ever since. Her motives for doing so are unknown to Viktor considering what he did to her the last time they saw each other.
Guns and emotions rarely mix well. Guns in the hands of emotional gangsters and their family even less so.
Sergey Garmash, who plays Viktor, is a heavily baritone individual. If he was the sweetest of human beings he’d still make you feel uneasy if all he did was ask you to pass the salt. As an accomplished mobster though his voice is enough to make you pass the salt before he asks just so you don’t have to hear him say it. He’s an intimidating presence, even to those he loves, and he’s still a commanding point of authority in a household he’s been absent from for decades and Garmash has put up one of this festival’s better performances. It’s monotone for the most part, but he takes the attention away from everyone else. Thankfully so, because his story is the part of the film that elevates it out of the melodrama that is the rest of the family. If this weren’t a picture about a mobster coming home it would probably be a Russian Merchant Ivory picture. Which is as good as it sounds, but also as drab.
Though not exactly an exciting film for the first two acts Dom – A Russian Family moves along on the performances of its large cast and solid direction and pacing from director Oleg Pogodin. He displays great aptitude in suppressing explosive activity for the majority of the picture and keep you involved until he’s ready to release it.
The family is a collection of depressing dysfunction and angry resentment, but they still have the closeness of a group that has lived together for years. Imagine The Waltons if John Boy had gotten involved with John Dillinger in his spare time. Then imagine what would happen if John Dillinger had followed John Boy back home and wanted him killed, and Sam Peckinpah had directed that episode. You might then get a good idea of why ‘Dom – A Russian Family’ is worth sitting through ninety minutes of drama to arrive at ten minutes of an all-too-worth-it climax.
The Upside: Sergey Garmash highlighting the overall strong performances from an ensemble cast, and one hell of a payoff in its third act.
The Downside: A first and second act that are little more than melodramatic build-up to a satisfying end. It isn’t difficult to sit through by any means, but it also is not very indicative of a mobster picture.
On the Side: Actor Sergey Garmash won the Nika Award for Best Actor for this picture . The Nika Awards are the Russian equivalent of the American Academy Awards, and Garmash has been nominated for either the lead actor or supporting actor category 8 of the last 12 years and won 4 times.