Although it’s just now seeing its first DVD release, Taxi Blues was, at the time of its 1990 cinematic release, something of a revelation. As Russia was emerging from the thaw of the Cold War, Western audiences grew increasingly interested in how the global political situation was playing out on the ground in cities like Moscow. Taxi Blues gave those audiences a close-up look at exactly that. Shlykov, a gruff and hardworking taxi driver, gets shafted on a fare by Lyosha, a struggling and shiftless Jewish saxophone player. Shlykov chases Lyosha down; of course, the two assume the worst about one another; of course, stereotypes and prejudices are overcome and the two become friends. After that, however, director Pavel Lungin pushes the film into some interesting territory, revealing the daily struggles encountered by workaday folk in this newly opened society, most notably the disorientation Shlykov experiences in his adjustment to a post-Soviet Russia; it’s very nearly heartbreaking when Lyosha gets a jazz gig in America and Shlykov is left with just his taxi. There’s a certain syrupy melodrama here, but Lungin avoids tugging obvious heartstrings. While the film’s visuals (and musical numbers) look quite dated at this point, it’s easy to understand why Taxi Bluesearned Lungin the Best Director award at Cannes in 1990; it’s harder to comprehend why it’s taken so long to arrive on DVD.
First appeared Jan. 29, 2009 in Detroit Metrotimes.