"Belmondo," like "Amur," has evocative roots (belle monde being "the world of beauty"). Obsessed, the boys see the movie 17 times. Its gravity-defying logic and relish of the absurd has an addicting, even medicinal power. "With his flattened nose," Dmitri says of Belmondo, "he looked like many of us. Our life - taiga, vodka, camps - sculpted faces of this type. Faces with a barbaric beauty that shone through the roughness of their tortured features." But a deeper pull lies in the more philosophic properties Belmondo embodies: his immense white sports cars (the quintessence of the unknown West); his daydreamy ease with women (made extra plausible and even touching in that Le Magnifique is openly a Walter Mitty fantasy, with a shy, bookish Belmondo at its heart); but above all by the absurd, brazenly pointless nature of his fantasy heroics, which stand as a perfect cure for the Soviet sense of mission these boys have imbibed with their mother's milk. "Oh, those divine legs!" sighs Dmitri of Belmondo's women. "Tanned thighs that seemed not to have the least idea of the presence, somewhere in the world, of winter . . . of our Siberia . . . Magnificently apolitical thighs. Serenely amoral. Thighs outside History."
The vision of life's possibility this admittedly silly movie offers is so hypnotic that Siberians from miles around - policemen, fugitives, lonesome apparatchiks of both sexes - are drawn to see it again and again. Makine slyly, wryly hints in such passages that Belmondo did more to bring down the Soviet Empire than Gorbachev, and superbly dramatizes the cultural, possibly societal earthquake a hit movie can touch off when the freedoms it represents make common cause with its viewers' daydreams.
More powerfully still, he evokes the myriad ways in which our daydreams help us mature. Standing outside the prostitute's house as he screws up his courage for a second visit, Dmitri is arrested by the sound of her singing to herself:
It was a song that seemed to come from very far away, as if it had had to cross infinite spaces . . . The voice was almost frail, but it had about it that remarkable freedom, pure and true, of songs sung in solitude, for oneself, for the wind, for the silence of the evening.
Whether wandering in the taiga or huddling in a movie theater, Dmitri addresses himself, so to speak, in the dark, to the point where his daydreams, and ours, tread on the divine: "The whole nighttime universe was like a living crystal, suspended on the fluttering eyelashes of an invisible being. I felt I was being watched by this person's immense eyes."