In the Russian film “Shultes” we see a petty criminal at work. Lyosha (Gela Chitava) is a pickpocket who is gradually doing bigger and bigger jobs, including stealing cars. He cannot do this alone and, alongside a group of loyal helpers, he takes young Kostik under his wing to help him carry out his crimes. Lyosha always carries a pocketbook with her to note and look up facts. But why is he doing this?
Where in most films the criminal world is portrayed as something completely reprehensible or heroic, we see in “Shultes” the more common reality, businesslike and cold. Director Bakur Bakuradze’s level of detail is commendable, you see every part of the crime from planning to execution. While this is very interesting, it also has a huge drawback: it makes the movie slow. The images are often beautiful, but hardly a word is spoken and because there is also almost nothing to do, the viewer’s attention sometimes diminishes. Showing beautiful images in itself does not immediately deliver a good story, only fellow countryman and colleague Tarkovsky (“Solyaris”) seemed to possess this gift.
The story, which initially shows the life of Lyosha with his criminal activities and taking care of his mother changes (too) slowly, towards the end it becomes more interesting and mysterious. Who is this Lyosha really, and why doesn’t he know about his childhood? Suddenly these kinds of questions arise and we see a video scene of a singing woman who is almost hypnotized. But then the image turns black and the film is over, “Shultes” is a puzzle that requires a lot of creativity and insight from the viewer. The character sketch is fine, but perhaps the director would have done better to explain a little more about the main character. Now Lyosha remains elusive and disappears like a thief in the night.
“Shultes” is a minimalist work about a petty criminal. Intriguing and beautiful at times, but at other times tedious and boring.