Sprinting with two left feet in a last-minute, neck-and-neck race against Tender Son – The Frankenstein Project for the title of Most Embarrassing Competition Entry is Nikita Mikhalkov's lumbering, cacophonous and frequently hilarious "five years later" follow-up to his 1994 Grand Prix (and Oscar) winner.
The first film, if you haven't seen it, is a elegiac, quasi-Chekhovian melodrama – mapping the dissolution of well-to-do family against the backdrop of the Stalinist purges – of which I am enormously fond. The new film forces me into a reassessment of that affection, rather as you might cool on your grandmother upon learning she has a secret love child named Robert Mugabe.
The problems with Burnt By the Sun 2 begin with its awkward backtracking on a character's fate described in the epilogue of its predecessor; it's one thing for the Friday the 13th franchise to resurrect key characters on a whim, but it's quite another for self-serious Russian historical dramas to do the same. Anyway, Ockham's razor demands we accept that protagonist General Kotov (Mikhalkov himself) is alive and well and kicking Nazi ass as part of a voluntary battalion, while his now-grown army-nurse daughter (once again, Mikhalkov's own daughter Nadia) weepily searches for him.
Establishing this narrative discontinuity apparently frees Mikhalkov from any stylistic obligation to the original, as the latter's literate tone and intimate narrative focus fall by the wayside while the director pitches his tent somewhere between David Lean and high-minded Michael Bay. It's not all derivative, mind: this is the first Noble War Movie I've seen where heroic fighter pilots fly low in a quite literal attempt to shit on the enemy captain. (They miss, sad to relate.)
Technical contributions are economically ropey – one epic battle conveniently takes place in fog, giving heavy crossfire the appearance of flashing Christmas lights glimpsed through net curtains – while much the same description goes for the dialogue. "Let me baptize you," a priest unnecessarily (and perhaps rather self-servingly) implores Kotov's daughter as they jointly cling to a lifebuoy in the ocean. "But I'm a Pioneer!" is her panicked reply. Mikhalkov closes out this fiasco with a subtitle boldly proclaiming "End of Part One": by any measure, less a promise than a threat.