In a decaying Russian city captured in stark black and white, a nameless teenager (Nazarenko) has far from an ideal life. His neglectful mother doesn't seem to care that his stepfather always seems to be a second away from punching him, and school consists primarily of bullying incidents. To escape, he creates a fantasy world where a gorgeous woman loves him and his real dad is the wanted leader of a pack of super criminals (the titular bullet collector, who snatches up all the casings for his bullets after firing them). Things get even worse when he strikes back at his attackers and winds up in a reform school where his situation becomes even more tense and violent.
Both stark and impressionistic, Bullet Collector is the type of film you'll enjoy far more if you don't worry about piecing together a linear narrative and just go along with the rush of images and emotions. This is pure adolescent angst bottled on film, and first-time director Vartanov makes numerous interesting visual choices to externalize our anonymous protagonist's battered state of mind. There's a fair amount of violence as well, of course, but it's about as far from the fetishized nature of films like Wanted as you can get. It's also structurally interesting, basically divided into two halves with the first organized like a schoolbook (complete with chapters) and the second becoming much more loose and operatic.
Incredibly, this was actually based on a stage play (by Yuri Klavdiev, described by Vartanov in the disc's booklet as "a crazy-looking toothless guy with orange-dyed hair"). The acknowledged debt to The 400 Blows is certainly in evidence, though the difference here (apart from all the spraying blood) lies in the child at the center of the story. Instead of an easily identifiable Antoine Doinel, here we have a sweet-looking cipher with difficulty discerning fantasy and reality. That might make this tough going for some viewers, but if you're up to the challenge, there are many rewards to be found.
In keeping with their recent track record, Artsploitation presents Bullet Collector in a fine DVD release containing a solid transfer that handles the demands of the sometimes harsh and stylized lighting very well. The English subtitles are burned in for some reason but are clear and surprisingly easy to read considering the often oppressive swaths of white light behind them, and the two-channel audio sounds fine for what amounts to a spare and fairly limited sound mix. The biggest extras is a 24-minute featurette covering the making of the film, which is absolutely fascinating from the opening moments since it's shot in hyper-saturated color and looks very, very different from the finished product. There's also a minor deleted scene (a little over two minutes), the trailer, and audition footage for Nazarenko (pretty disturbing actually, and he looks strangely older) and fellow actors Piotr Ivanov and Evgeny Olshansky. Also included are trailers for Clip, Combat Girls, Gandu, and Hard Romanticker, as well as a very good liner notes booklet containing both an essay by Travis Crawford and an interview he conducted with Vartanov, covering such topics as the lack of commercial potential for low budget films in Russia and the level of scripting versus improvisation on the set. Definitely recommended.