A busy, bright version of the Russian capital

Here's an oddity: an Irishman directing movies in Russian. And this is his second; his first (Pryachsya, 2011) was about two men at a remote weather station, and not to be confused with Alexei Popogrebski's similarly themed film of the year before. This time O'Reilly's more ambitious and takes on all of Moscow in a ronde la PT Anderson's Magnolia. Except that PT Anderson Johnny O'Reilly is not. This is a triumph of unexpected mediocrity, the most superficial, unoriginal, and gorgeous movie you may ever see, should you choose to see it. You would do so for its strikingly perfect images of a Moscow like you've never seen: bright, modern, busy. We are used to the films of directors like Andrey Zvyagintsev and Yuri Bykov, which are dark, brooding, and gloomy. Fdor Lyass’ cinematography makes this busy, complicated mix of dramas look just awesomely perfect and to top it off, this is City Day, the holiday celebrating Moscow's founding, and it ends with spectacular panoramas of fireworks. So pretty! But there's no emotional takeaway.

There's a dying TV star (Yuri Stoyanov) who escapes hospital, gets kidnapped, has some fun. An aggressive real estate magnate with two girlfriends (Aleksey Serebryakov, of Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan) is blocked by corrupt politicos. Or no - the sick TV star has two girlfriends. A girl is looking for her dad. There's an old lady (Tamara Spiricheva), who gets taken to a Soviet-era nursing home, but then her grandson gets guilty and brings her back. A pop singer (Evgenia Brik) has two boyfriends, and gives a show. Several people have drinking problems (vodka is still the main drink). Some people get drugged with pills. There's a terrible traffic jam, and big shiny new glass skyscrapers.

Though some of these stories dovetail - the pop singer's clingy ex-boyfriend is the son of the dying comedy star; his kidnapper runs into two girls from the old lady's family at a nightclub - there are no revelations, or the kind of profound-feeling moments Magnolia achieves. The well known actors don't have as good material to work with. At moments the slippery rhythm of the action and the bright nocturnal glow (and there is some electronic dance music here too) reminded me of the dreamy, beautiful new Polish film All These Sleepless Nights. But that film, in its very superficiality - it's just the study of two young hedonists passing a druggy year in Warsaw - gives it a sense of focus and purpose this film lacks. One endlessly repetitious non-plot turns out to provide a richer emotional structure than five intertwined ones. LIke the man said, less is more. Still, students of contemporary cinematography might want to take a look at Moscow Never Sleeps.

Johnny O'Reilly studied Russian and Classics at Trinity College, Dublin, and film at NYU. He lived and worked in Moscow ten years, first as a journalist, is fluent in Russian, and divides his time now between Ireland, London, and Moscow. This film is a Russian-Irish coproduction.

Moscow Never Sleeps opened 14 July 2017 at the 4Star in San Francisco.

Moscow Never Sleeps,, 100 mins., debuted Sept. 2015 in Russia; Cyprus, Ireland, and USA releases July and Nov. 2016 respectively and 9 Jun. 2018 (NYC). Metascore 51.