Citizen X (1995)

citizenx1

*. We’re in Russia, though the film was shot in Hungary. Russia the depressing and eerily depopulated. Russia the bureaucratic, sclerotic, and moribund. Is there some thematic significance to the capture of the killer coinciding with the downfall of the Soviet Union? Certainly the filmmakers imply some connection between the policies of perestroika and glasnost and more effective policing.
*. We’re in Russia, but of course the actors are all speaking in English. English with Russian accents. I’ve always wondered about this. Since we’re never outside of Russia here, and all of the characters are Russian, why bother with the accents? It’s the same for any movie where you present characters in a foreign country speaking English with a French or German or Russian accent when we know that they’re not “really” speaking English at all. I guess using an accent in such a situation is a convention, but in a case like this it doesn’t make much sense.
*. We’re in Russia, which lovers of classic Russian literature (and to some degree film) will always associate with trains. Trains covering those vast empty spaces. Except here the trains are electric instead of steam, and they’re looking run down. They’re also the carriers of the lethal Chikatilo. Again one senses a thematic point being made.
*. We’re in Russia, Soviet Russia, where party members get all kinds of perks. Like the “get out of jail free” card that Chikatilo enjoys, or his relatively luxurious apartment. He’s a factory worker and he lives like a king compared to Burakov, who is a high-ranking police officer.
*. At one point in the movie we’re told that Chikatilo kills more boys than girls. So why is it that all of the victims we see are female? That’s weird. Meanwhile, the police go around putting the frighteners on homosexuals. There’s something confused in this.
*. We’re in Russia, where everything is kept low key. Stephen Rea never loses that hangdog face. There’s no point getting excited about anything, standing out from the crowd, drawing attention to yourself, rocking the boat. Which makes Chikatilo on the hunt rather like the police who are hunting him: a grey, anonymous predator.
*. At the end there’s a note telling us that there was no explanation for the mistake made in classifying Chikatilo’s blood type. Actually there was an explanation, but I’m not sure how convincing it is. Apparently Chikatilo was a rare case of someone whose semen was type AB, whereas his blood and saliva were type A. My understanding is that this is at least possible. But the producers of the film either weren’t buying it or didn’t know about it.
*. This is a good little HBO movie, presenting an interesting wrinkle on the already familiar serial-killer story. The direction is pretty flat (you can tell we’re not going for style points just from the opening credits), but that fits with the overall tone of the movie. Even the score, which is terrific, is subdued. Rea and Jeffrey DeMunn (Chikatilo) are both excellent. Donald Sutherland seems out of place to me. Better that a film like this be without stars. We’re in Russia, after all.

citizenx2

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