6 Epic gangster films from Eastern Europe you need to watch

Films about the secretive and mysterious world of crime which have attracted much attention, consistently broke box office records and sparked imagination of millions

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Vitabello (CC0), Pixabay

Films about the secretive and mysterious world of crime have always attracted much attention and consistently broke box office records. Some of the movies from the gangster sub genre are today considered to be parts of pop culture and are seen as cinematic masterpieces. Due to the size and influence of Eastern European criminal world, many prominent, award winning gangster films originate from countries of the region. Some of them narrate the story with a comic element, while others feature a more realistic, documentary like approach to film making. Yet they all share a glimpse into a dangerous, yet alluring life beyond the law, which sparks imagination and awakens interest of viewers every single time.

Brother, 1997. (Brat), Aleksei Balabanov

A cult film of post-Soviet Russia, Brat became one of the most successful films in Russian cinematography just months after its VHS release. Considered by many to be the best gangster film ever made, Brat was screened at Cannes Film Festival in 1997., and eventually got a long anticipated sequel in 2000. This film follows the indoctrination of young ex-soldier Danila into the criminal milieu of St. Petersburg, and his navigation through this dangerous yet exciting environment. As Danila crosses paths with many unusual characters such as German, Sveta and Kat, we learn about many life stories which are all just as interesting as the story of the protagonist.

The Wounds, 1998. (Rane), Srđan Dragojević

Based on a true story, this film is famously dedicated to generations born after Tito. Located in the neighborhood of New Belgrade, The Wounds takes place between 1991. and 1996., during the Yugoslav civil war. Only 14 years old at the beginning of story, two main characters Pinki and Švaba grow up in a destabilized society struck by poverty and sanctions. Introduced to a glamorous world of cars, money and power by a television show called Puls Asfalta (Pulse of the Asphalt), Pinki and Švabo religiously watch the interviews of gangsters on the show and fantasize about appearing on it themselves. Eventually finding idols in Belgrade mobsters and criminals, boys start to despise their working class parents, especially Pinki whose father is a retired policeman. In a stark contrast to the struggling lives of their families and rest of the nation, Pinki and Švabo become obsessed with their neighbor Kure who drives a fancy car, has a beautiful girlfriend and makes monthly robbing trips to Germany. Eventually they become his assistants and disciples, entering the world of crime, drugs and death they fantasized about. Reviewed by The A.V. Club as ‘’a film so cruel and shocking it makes Clockwork Orange look like a Disney production’’, and a ‘’stinging satire which defined a new generation of thugs that evoke both horror and pity’’ by The New York Times, The Wounds remains the most memorable gangster film of Balkan cinematography.

Antikiller, 2002. (Антикиллер), Egor Konchalovsky

Made as an adaptation of a Russian novel Antikiller written by a former policeman Daniil Koretsky, this film became legendary among fans of modern crime genre. The narrative revolves around an ex investigator Major Korolev who embarks on a revenge campaign against his corrupt colleagues whose betrayal sent him to jail for many years. Following the trail of traitors, Korolev ends up deep in the Russian criminal underground, where he seeks out gang bosses and corrupt policemen in order to get justice for himself. Other than action and crime world, this film depicts the dark and unpleasant reality of early 1990s in the streets of Moscow, with grim scenes such as the one when an elderly lady steals food from a corpse. Considered a genre classic in Russia, both novel and film broke all records and continue to top popularity lists until present day.

Thieves By Law, 2010. (Ganavim Ba Hok), Alexander Genetelev

A documentary styled film, Ganavim Ba Hok features unscripted interviews with some of the most powerful mafia bosses in Russia, the so called Thieves By Law. In his most prominent work, Alexander Genetelev spoke with the most powerful Thief By Law in the Vladivostok region Vitaly Dyomochka, Interpol-wanted Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov Taiwanchik and a legendary mobster Leonid Bilunov Mackintosh, who is believed to be one of the first Russian gangsters to spread their influence to the West. In the film, these real life gangsters tell their stories, from problematic early years spent in prisons around Soviet Union, to the origins and development of organized crime in Russia. Oligarchs, semi legal businesses, spreading to the West and candid information about their private lives are all among the topics this docufilm covers throughout 90 minutes of highly thought provoking content.

Black Cat, White Cat, 1998. (Crna mačka, beli mačor), Emir Kusturica

Observing the world of crime from a comical, slightly ridiculous perspective, Black Cat, White Cat may not be the first film to cross your mind when you think about gangster sub genre, yet it incorporates stories of both small hustlers such as Matko and big local mobsters such as Dadan Karambolo and Grga Pitić into an unmistakably Balkan comedy. Infused with both Romani and Serbian influences, this film has been a huge success both among the audience and critics. Telling the story of crime, magic, drugs and love all located in a small Romani village along the coast of Danube, Kusturica introduces us to a plethora of bizarre, yet lovable characters who mostly live beyond the law. Reviewed by The Village Voice as “a vehicle for the director’s lowdown magic-realist fantasies about Romany gangsters”, and “a mad scramble through the Felliniesque realm of Mr. Kusturica’s imagination” by The New York Times, this film has produced legendary characters, unforgettable cinematic moments and an award winning soundtrack.

Sisters, 2001. (Сёстры), Sergei Bodrov Jr.

Considered by some fans to be the third part of film Brat, Sisters is a directorial debut and an only film made by the main actor from the films Brat and Brat 2, Sergei Bodrov Jr., who died a year later in an accident. The story revolves around two half sisters Dina and Sveta, who live completely different lifestyles. While Sveta lives a simple life with her grandma, her sister Dina enjoys a far more lavish lifestyle with her mother and father Alik, who happens to be a gangster. As the story unfolds, Alik gets threats from his old colleagues and is asked for money he allegedly owes them. After he refuses to pay, his two daughters are kidnapped. Yet, as they make an escape and continue to flee through the vast wilderness of Russia, Alik seeks to get his revenge on those who harmed them.

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