The Checkpoint


(1998) Russia

Directed by Aleksandr Rogozhkin

Written by Aleksandr Rogozhkin. Cinematography by Andrei Zhegalov. Art Direction by Vladimir Kartashov. Music by Vladimir Panchenko. With Roman romantsov, Kiril Ul'ianov, Ivan Kuz'min, Denis Kirilov, and Egor Tomoshevskii.

Rogozhkin has managed to step away from realism into [...] a parable without any artificial and pretentious generalizations.
Everything is so life-like that it is hard to believe: the absurdity is deep-rooted, palpable, and routine. The charming mountain girl brings her deaf mute sister for the Russian soldiers' sexual pleasure, and they pay for it with bullets with which the girl later shoots at them. Soldiers openly negotiate with the enemy about the purchase of dope and the temporary neutralization of the sharpshooter.
— Dmitrii Bykov, Iskusstvo kino [Film Art] 5 (1999). p 68.

The film is unconventional as it portrays war as endless waiting and sitting around (is this what Sam Fuller meant when he said cinema is life warfare?) Checkpoint is antiwar but not really pacifist. It depicts the conflict as a sequence of arbitrary daily events tinged with humor and humanity. One of the soldiers narrates the film, and his voiceover counting the days is reminiscent of a Wong Kar Wai film — where time is always too slow for the characters, events come out of nowhere and life is a struggle against boredom.
The film's denouement implodes like a vacumn. Any sense of well-being that the film had imparted up to that point palpably drained from the theater in three short seconds. It is this clincher that makes Checkpoint a disconcerting and powerful statement. Its structure is like a fragile hollow sphere on which each scene is carefully painted, only to be crushed mindlessly on completion. The film strips war of its meaning just as war strips life of its meaning.
— Eugene Chew, '99 Sydney Film Festival review ("Toto: Cinema Matters")

Aleksandr Rogozhkin (1949) completed a degree in history at Leningrad University and worked as an art designer at the Leningrad TV and Lenfilm Studios. In 1982, he graduated from the State Institute of Cinematography, where he studied under Sergei Gerasimov. Rogozhkin's films Peculiarities of the National Hunt (1995) and its sequel, Peculiarities of National Fishing (1998) became Russian blockbusters. Rogozhkin also directed several episodes of the most popular Russian TV police procedural, Street of Broken Lights. In 1999, Checkpoint received several international awards and the Grand Prix at the Kinotavr Film Festival in Sochi.