May 23, 2024

limonov: the ballad of eddie, kirill serebrennikov, ben whishaw, viktoria miroshnichenko


Ben Whishaw offers a fiery, unfettered turn in Limovov: The Ballad, a stylish and compelling portrait of a unique figure in recent Russian history. The subject is the real-life dissident poet and politician Edward Limonov, who co-founded in 1993 the ultra-nationalist National Bolshevik Party and lived a life of revolution and rebellion. Adapted from Emmanuel Carrères’ novelised biography that was published in 2011, the film comes co-written and directed by the hugely talented Russian filmmaker Kirill Serebrennikov (Leto, Petrov’s Flu).

Here, Serebrennikov co-scripts with Ben Hopkins (Simon Magus) and Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War, Ida), two intriguing filmmakers in their own right. The results are as explosive as they are impressive, tracing Limonov’s life from his early literary years to his time in politics around the turn of the Millennium. Arrogant and assured – ‘I’m better than all those mindless people in Moscow,’ trills Eddie, as he prefers to be known – Whishaw carrying off Limonov’s cocksure swagger with real aplomb.

The British actor famed for Q in the Daniel Craig-era James Bond films and voicing Paddington Bear in the recent movie series is tremendous and transformative as the transgressive rebel. He’s cursed with a quick-fire temper, from fits of jealous rage over the love of his life, the willow-like model Elena (Viktoria Miroshnichenko), to disparaging protestors on the streets in New York who he feels are not radical enough. 

Limonov, who died in 2020 before the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, is shown here in various guises (butler, celebrity, prisoner and more), with Serebrennikov going all-out to spirit audiences along through thirty-odd years of history, with a considerable pitstop in 1970s New York. Scored with a love for Lou Reed (‘Walk on the Wild Side’ gets a good airing) and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, it’s an electric way to take on a political biopic. 

One of the most remarkable sequences comes as Serebrennikov spins us across the 1980s, right up to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the fall of the Berlin Wall, in a transitional montage bursting with imagination. Cut to the Sex Pistols’ ‘Pretty Vacant’, Whishaw’s character runs through a series of ‘rooms’ on a street, each representing a moment in time, as images from Margaret Thatcher to The Terminator flash past. 

While some will accuse Limonov: The Ballad of sacrificing substance for style, questioning whether it digs into its subject’s political motivations enough, there can be no doubt that this is expert filmmaking, brimming with vigour. ‘Life is much more interesting than writing,’ says Limonov; Serebrennikov shows this vibrantly.

Kirill Serebrennikov’s Limonov: The Ballad starring Ben Whishaw and Viktoria Miroshnichenko played at the 77th Cannes Film Festival and will release in cinemas later this year