Hip-Hop with a Russian accent

‘Here and Now’ takes a close look at Israeli Russians and their struggles.

Ziv Berkowitz (photo credit: LAYLA FILMS)
Ziv Berkowitz
(photo credit: LAYLA FILMS)
Starring: Vlad Dubinsky, Mishel Vainberg, Rinat Hasanov
Length: 90 minutes
Hebrew title: Kan v’Achshav
In Hebrew and Russian, check with theaters for subtitle information
Roman Shumunov’s Here and Now is a gritty, often moving drama about young Russian immigrants in Ashdod who turn to hip hop to express their frustrations. While much of its plot may be predictable, Here and Now is elevated by the charm and intensity of its appealing and mostly nonprofessional cast. You root for its hero and his friends, and even though you can probably guess how the story is going to end, you hope till the last moment that you are wrong.
Here and Now focuses on Andrey (Vlad Dubinsky), a young man struggling to raise his younger sister, Christina (Mishel Vainberg), while their ailing, widowed father is hospitalized. He picks up shifts in a factory and is as responsible as he can be, given the pressures he is under. He truly loves his sister and wants the best for her, encouraging her to study and sing. But the social-services establishment doesn’t have much confidence in him as a caregiver and he has to make sure his family stays under the radar, so she isn’t placed in foster care. He has to find a way to be there for her and still pay the family’s bills, including debts and entanglements he barely understands that far exceed his minimum-wage salary. Inevitably, he finds himself drawn into the orbit of a gang of thugs, who offer him a way out of his financial predicament but at a terrible price.
The one place where he is able to let go and express himself is creating and performing hip hop with friends, also immigrants, Renat (Renat Hasanov), Zura (Zura Kartvelishvili) and Mixer (Eduard Hmelnitsky). All are gifted, passionate musicians and all are tightly wound. They rehearse in the bomb shelter at a school, where they are eventually chased out by police. They know there is no future for them if they return home, but in Israel they are unemployed, underemployed or have menial, dead-end jobs. Here and Now is a semi-documentary look at the lives of these young immigrants who can’t seem to catch a break.
Vlad Dubinsky gives a winning performance in the lead and you completely empathize with him. Renat Hasanov, Zura Karvelishvili and Eduard Hmelnitsky, who play his friends, combine musical talent with the attitude of stand-up comics.
Russians (and their accents) are often made fun of in Israeli popular culture, and it’s been a long time since there was a dramatic film that took a close and sympathetic look at them. Here and Now is not the first movie to dramatize the lives of Russian immigrants to Israel. Some of the movie highlights about this community include Yana’s Friends, a 1999 drama by Arik Kaplun, about a young Russian woman who is abandoned by her husband in Israel, and features a famous love scene in which the couple wear gas masks; Ari Folman and Ori Sivan’s Saint Clara, about a Russian teenage girl with psychic powers whose ability to predict the future is exploited in all kinds of ways and who inhabits a dystopian wasteland; and The Loners, a movie by Renan Schorr about two Russian soldiers in a military prison. But I can’t think of a feature film that has captured the day-to-day grind of Russian immigrants trapped in poverty as effectively and as memorably as Here and Now.
The more you like hip hop, the more you will enjoy the dynamic performances that Andrey and his friends give. But even if it you don’t like it, you can appreciate their deep desire to express their pain and find joy through music.
You may think you know all about people like Andrey and his friends, but as you watch Here and Now, you will realize you don’t really know them. And you may find out you have more in common with them than you ever imagined.