A bonkers fantasia whose title refers to hope inspired by a Pepsi can, “Generation P” is a trip and a treat. Ideas and gusto make up for messiness and overload in this Russian satire about advertising and its effect.
Adapting the novel by Victor Pelevin, director and co-writer Victor Ginzburg serves a vital cocktail that suggests a mix of “Brazil,” David Mamet’s media-spin satires, rabbit-hole tales and theme comedies such as “How to Succeed in Advertising,” along with a dominant Russian gene that keeps things fresh and unique.
The setting is Yeltsin- and Putin-era Russia. Communism is out, Western products are in, and the atmosphere is corrupt, greed-conducive and lawless — prime terrain for cracked journeys like these.
Babylen Tatarsky (Vladimir Yepifantsev) comes from the young generation of Russians for whom a Russia-manufactured version of the above-named soft drink — a gift from the dying Soviet regime — represents new horizons.
Seeking fortune and happiness, Babylen trades in his kiosk job and poet aspirations for work as an advertising copywriter. Good at creating Russia-friendly sales pitches for soft drinks, cigarettes and other products, he ascends to high levels of the burgeoning industry.
The money rocks, but his soul is eroding.
A crazed and sometimes sordid adventure results, complete with Chechen mobsters, dead colleagues, government malfeasance, psychedelic mushrooms, spin wizards and a secret unit where political leaders and events are created digitally and presented to the public as fact. (One such figure resembles Vladimir Putin uncannily.)
Fractured, Babylen pursues spiritual connection, in the form of what he believes to be a link between himself and the similarly named ancient city, home to love goddess Ishtar.
Like many a book adaptation, the film feels stuffed with characters and plot threads that may please fans of the novel but add little to the movie. And its nonstop spectacles upstage the depiction of Babylen’s inner struggle.
Also, viewers unfamiliar with recent Russian history may not get the numerous political references. Still, there’s lots to savor for anyone desiring a cracked Russian wild ride with something to say.
The film sharply addresses how advertising efficiently shapes public perception and how it has entwined itself with politics and the news media in scary ways often ignored. Ginzburg also underscores how ever-improving technology exacerbates this situation.
As phantasmagorical adventures go, finally, the film is visually dazzling, thoroughly unpredictable and sufficiently inspired enough to make its excesses forgivable. Off-the-wall highlight: a Ouija-board encounter with Che Guevara.
Buckle your seat belts and go with this one.