Dir: Bakhtiar Khudoinazarov. Russ-Ger-It-Fr. 2003. 95 mins.

The latest outing by director Bakhtiar Khudoinazarov is, essentially, about three country lads fooling about, telling unlikely stories and occasionally becoming maudlin or lovestruck. Charming in its own small way, it is unlikely to have the impact of 1999's Luna Papa on the international arthouse circuit. Still, it will keep fans of the Berlin-based director's brand of Russian whimsy going until Leo, his biggest-budget film to date (shot in Vienna with Austrian, German and Italian money), emerges later this year. The Suit played in the Panorama sidebar at this year's Berlinale.

Peaky, Geka and Dumbo are firm friends who live in a one-horse town somewhere in the Russian south, and get up to the usual post-adolescent larks. One day, on a spree in the provincial capital, they see a Gucci suit in a window and decide they must have it. After a couple of failed attempts (one involving a woman who goes into labour when they try to rob her amusement arcade), the trio secure the prize, and arrange to own it on a timeshare basis.

However, strange things happen to the one who dons the suit, and the breakneck farce of the opening becomes darker. It is here that problems of tone kick in: the goofy acting style stresses caricature over character, and it is difficult to commit emotionally when themes like suicide and rape are pasted into the picture.

At its best, The Suit has a spontaneity and pace that papers over the cracks of its facile forays into surrealism. Some minor characters - such as a grinning, somersaulting policeman - have a touch of comic genius about them, though others are too mannered. Vladimir Klimov's photography veers between cinematic panning shots and handheld work, and the soundtrack is quirkily original, mixing Russian folk with Cuban-tinged lounge music. But pace and spontaneity are not enough by themselves.

Prod co: Central Partnership
Int'l sales:
Fortissimo Film Sales
Ruben Dischdischjan, Bakhtiar Khudoinazarov
Oleg Antonov
Vladimir Klimov
Prod des:
Alexandr Schchurikhin
Andreij Vernidub
Daler Nazarov
Main cast:
Alexandr Yatsenko, Arthur Smolyaniov, Ivan Kokorin