MOSCOW NEVER SLEEPS (Russia | Ireland/15A/101mins)
Directed by Johnny O’Reilly. Starring Evgenia Agenorova, Rustam Akhmadeyev, Lyubov Aksyonova, Ieva Andrejevaite, Maria Armas
THE PLOT: ‘Moscow Never Sleeps’ follows several people on the day of Moscow’s City Day holiday, as they go about their daily lives; an ailing celebrity who wants to live life on his own terms, a young singer who is torn between two lovers, a teenage girl trying to find the strands of her family and a young man making a choice between the past and the present.
THE VERDICT: Taking a leaf out of the book of such films as ‘Magnolia’ and ‘Crash’, ‘Moscow Never Sleeps’ is a film that follows individual people as we learn how they all connect together. This is an interesting concept for a film, but without a strong statement to be made, ‘Moscow Never Sleeps’ feels like it never truly wakes up.
The cast of the film do well in their roles, even though none of them are truly given a lot to do. There is the feeling that each of the characters learns something throughout the film, but without a protagonist or a strong message, the performances never quite get going. The cast features Alexey Serebryakov, Evgenia Brik, Yuriy Stoyanov, Mikhail Efremov, Lubov Aksenova, Oleg Dolin and rising star Anastasia Shalonko.
‘Moscow Never Sleeps’ is written and directed by Irish man Johnny O’Reilly, we decamped to Moscow in the early 1990s. As someone who is both part of, and removed from Moscow and Russia as a whole, O’Reilly’s eye for the city is an interesting one, but the city that is the backdrop for all of these stories never feels as though it is cohesive, and even though these characters are all connected, it does not feel as though the city is. The dialogue in the film is fine, and there are some stories that are stronger than others and, once again, without a throughline, ‘Moscow Never Sleeps’ feels bitty and unfinished.
As directed Johnny O’Reilly gets strong performances from his actors, and the scenes work well enough as stand alones but it is bringing this tale together that the film stumbles. There is no political, physical or emotional event to say why this day is different for all of the characters in the film – apart from the fact that it is a national holiday – and the lack of connection is a problem for the film as a whole.
In all, ‘Moscow Never Sleeps’ explores characters in an interesting way but some of the characters are more engaging than others, and although all of the performances in the film are good, it would have been more rewarding to spend time with fewer stories that were properly fleshed out.
RATING: 3/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    Moscow-based Irish director Johnny O’Reilly’s second feature Moscow Never Sleeps is an ambitious, multi-strand narrative that focuses on the lives of intersecting characters. All of this takes place over one day, Moscow’s Happy City Day in recognition of its birthday.

    The film opens with famed actor Valeriy (Yuriy Stoyanov) in hospital wondering if he’s in heaven or hell. Maybe somewhere in between, as he’s not in the best of shape and has an estranged son. Later on, he gets some attention in the form of some lads who ‘kidnap’ him from the hospital for photos. Businessman Anton (Aleksey Serebryakov) is trying to convince local councillors on city development, but hits a brick wall. He’s also carrying on an affair with singer Katya (Eugenia Khirivskaya), whose ex-partner follows her unobserved and is anxious to re-connect with her. Other stories include a young man coming to terms with his ailing grandmother and a teenage girl in search of direction in her life…

    With a title taken from a song, Moscow Never Sleeps is just that. There’s a thread running throughout the film that the city is always alive and vibrant. O’Reilly should know, as he studied Russian in Trinity College before moving to his new home in Moscow. Like Paddy Breathnach recently with Viva, O’Reilly has managed to capture a slice of city life from a foreigner’s point-of-view that comes across as lively and authentic. Key to that is Fedor Lyass’ luminous cinematography, which wisely avoids picture-postcard Moscow for a teeming, panoramic city view that is modern rather than historic.

    Multi-strand narratives can be risky propositions, particularly if they interconnect towards the end. Any weak links in the chain could bring the whole lot down. While some story strands are stronger than others, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the others are weaker. The other strands may not be as impactful e.g. the unfulfilled potential of the story involving the teenage girl. However, each story acts as its own capsule that forms a greater whole. So, no weak links then. The performances by the ensemble cast are very good too, with Serebryakov bringing over some of that contained rage from Leviathan. An interesting film then that warrants a recommendation. ****