Leningrad Cowboys Go America Review

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An eight-strong Soviet rock band ups sticks with their manager and travel to and through America (where, they are told, "they listen to any old shit") seeking fame, fortune and an audience.


Enthusiastically received at the Berlin Film Festival, Ariel was the first of the brothers’ films to get a U.K. release, and paved the way for both Leningrad Cowboys Go America and the rather less than wonderful Hamlet Goes Business. Aki apparently likes to alternate between “serious” and “off the wall” films, and Leningrad Cowboys most definitely falls into this latter category.

Featuring the real-life Leningrad Cowboys (hence the name), it’s the tale of a Soviet rock band who decide to pack up and leave the frozen wastelands of the tundra to seek their fortune in America. The Cowboys play a sort of swinging Cossack music with horns, accordions and, if you will, Hank Marvinesque guitar breaks while favouring an exaggerated rockabilly mode of dress. With eight in the band, plus their manager Vladimir, they fill the screen in a riot of serious quiffs, sharp suits and dark shades, the extra-long winklepickers adding a certain symmetry to the whole look. Picking up a used Cadillac from a salesman who looks suspiciously like Jim Jarmusch, the group gig their way across the States, not quite knockin’ ‘em dead in a series of lowlife joints (usual reaction: “Here’s the money, now get lost and don’t come back”) and eventually arrive in Mexico.

Here, with the same production team who made Ariel, Kaurismaki again demonstrates a natural talent for location work, capturing the rich dusky colours by day along with the stunning night time city landscapes. Dialogue is kept to a bare minimum throughout and when it comes, it features this director’s customary deadpan wit (Hamlet Goes Business aside) and touches on his recurrent themes of cars, hobos, beer and rock ‘n’ roll. Add to all this a telling eye for detail and some wonderful photography and a “cult” road movie of quite irresistible charm is the end result.

Completely offbeat, but the comic timing and tone is hit perfectly in almost every scene.