Limonov: The Ballad of Eddie (2024)

Limonov: The Ballad of Eddie Review

Limonov: The Ballad of Eddie

The word Limonov is pronounced as “Lee-MWAH-nov” is one of two things that Kirill Serebrennikov’s “Limonov: The Ballad” teaches us about Eduard Limonov, the Russian radical poet dissident emigré returnee detainee bête noire and cause célèbre who co-founded the ultra-nationalist National Bolshevik Party in 1993. The other thing this Emmanuel Carrère adaptation imagines his 2015 fictionalized biography does for all that he shifted identity and attitude over an eventful life which was to never waver from being a frustratingly self centered egotist, as we see him here. 

A smarter movie might have laid bare those contradictions with more illuminating friction; these days, populist crypto-fascist political movements and their maverick leaders are not without relevance. But Serebrennikov (“Leto,” “Petrov’s Flu”) mistakes the accoutrements for the substance, enamored of Limonov’s adopted-rebel posture but curiously incurious about what exactly it was he claimed to be rebelling against on any given occasion, and seems to view his sensational yet strangely airbrushed biopic mostly as a vehicle for a DGAF-cool aesthetic that already feels past its sell-by date. 

Chapter headings rendered in faux Soviet-propaganda-poster font slam down across the image as Whishaw’s Limonov smirks in a stars and stripes shirt and announces in heavily accented English (the film’s lingua franca no matter where anyone hails from) “I am an independent communist.” Time frames and aspect ratios shuttle back and forth; first we leap forward to a Moscow press conference Eddie as he prefers gives on his return from Glasnost-era exile. A woman in the audience laments that he has replaced his former dissident image with that of “a bureaucrat. It breaks my heart,” she says. “I don’t care about your heart,” Eddie enunciates, and already one faintly suspects that Whishaw, committed as he is, may have been miscast: There is a particular kind of soulfulness to his acting, and it’s the precise sort of thing Serebrennikov seems determined to discourage in this retrograde renegade portrait. 

Then we are back in the Soviet Union, boxy and black-and-white, where Eddie is a worker by trade but a poet by vocation or would be if he weren’t so frustrated by how little recognition for literary greatness seems available here in Kharkiv (his lofty voiceover repeats these plaints frequently). Everything thinks they’re cleverer than him; everything doesn’t know what he’s capable of; everything isn’t even paying attention, man! And so he decamps to Moscow, leaving behind girlfriend Anna (Maria Mashkova) who gets nothing but a cartoon penis drawn on her butt to remember him by (“I know I’m bad” crows the narration). But there too no one will publish him; instead he sulks around literary parties. It’s at one such gathering that he meets Elena (Viktoria Miroshnichenko from “Beanpole”), a leggy Anita Pallenberg cipher in floppy hat and miniskirt who becomes Eddie’s lover after he slashes his wrists in performative despair at her rejection. Somehow they get themselves exiled together to New York City and before long they are haunting the noodle shops and porn theaters of ’70s Manhattan poor but photogenic and madly in love.

Whereas Elena’s career in front of the camera is booming, Eddie is spending his days on New York City streets getting into fights with pamphleteers actually just one street, a set-built thoroughfare that production designer Vlad Ogay has dressed impressively but that is only one street, giving an additional air of pastichey theatricality to this whole section. The inertia is increased by DP Roman Vasyanov’s oddly slow camera movement, by a Brechtian reality break and by all the self-conscious movie references that Serebrennikov shoehorns in, to the point of having a little girl in a big hat lean into the window of a yellow taxicab as Eddie and Elena emerge from the porno theater.

But then obviousness plagues this movie, even as we follow Eddie through his stint as a butler to a millionaire, through his phase of Parisian celebrity, his return to Russia, imprisonment and subsequent release into the embrace of the militantly nationalist fanbase he has accrued. And it’s a quality that lands particularly poorly in the film’s less savory parts. A sexual encounter that Eddie engineers with a homeless Black man during the dark days after Elena leaves him, for example: Eddie clearly gets off on the perceived sexual, racial and class-based transgressiveness of it all but it is depicted so baldly here that we don’t feel like the film is critiquing or even really noticing our queasiness about those assumptions.

Polish filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski (credited here as co-screenwriter and exec producer) said in 2020 interview that after three years attached to this project as writer-director “I don’t really like this character not enough to make a movie about him.” And perhaps Serebrennikov wanted to avoid such disillusionment himself which was why his film skips over many of Carrère’s book more troubling incidents. Instead, we get a ploddingly literal use of hip signifiers like a character saying “Take a walk on the wild side” in movie that actually uses the Lou Reed song as a cue, a reiteration of the Taxi Driver reference in case anyone missed it first time around and a pride in the punk soundtrack as an indicator of edginess that doesn’t really work when you can buy Ramones T-shirts at H&M. With all its omissions and elisions, and the coolness-cosplay feeling that suffuses this noisy but lifeless movie, “Limonov” might not be altogether wrong about the mercurial, charismatic and maddening Eduard Limonov but it is at least mispronouncing him.

Watch Limonov: The Ballad of Eddie For Free On Gomovies.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top