Opening in mid-September is Canadian director David Cronenberg's latest film "Eastern Promises." This film reunites him with his leading man from "A History of Violence," actor Viggo Mortensen. The cast also includes Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassel and Armin Mueller-Stahl.
Set in London, the story follows the investigations of a midwife/nurse, portrayed by Watts. She plays Ann Khitrova, a woman of Russian descent. A young pregnant mother delivers a baby girl and dies on Anna's shift. She recovers a diary from the young lady, learning the girl is in fact only fourteen years old. Further details lead her into the world of organized crime, and she crosses paths with a Russia mafia gang, operating a prostitution ring in London.
The poster for the movie features a pair of man's hands with many tattoos on the fingers of one hand and the back of the other. The tag line for the movie is "Every sin leaves a mark." In the trailer for the film, we see two policemen investigating a dead body found on the beach. They peel back items of clothing from the body. One of them says, "These are Russian prison tattoos. They tell your life's story. If you don't have tattoos, you don't exist." The background for the titles of the trailer also show many glimpses of tattooed designs.
Viggo Mortensen plays the character of Nickolai Luzhin, a chauffeur who is part of a Russian gang based in London. There are some shots in the trailer where you see him getting up from a chair and other scenes of a fist-fight. The character is shirtless in these scenes and it's clear that Luzhin has lots of prison tattoos all over his arms, legs, chest and back. In interviews David Cronenberg has said the tattoos were Mortensen's idea.
Russian prison tattoos are often characterized as having very strong religious and political elements. The work tends to have some resemblance to the fine-line style found in US prison tattooing, something not surprising given that both are most often executed with homemade tools and pricked by hand, not by an electric machine.
To learn more about Russian prison tattoos, you might like Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia Volume II by Alexei Pluster-Sarno and Danzig Baldaev or Russian Prison Tattoos: Codes of Authority, Domination, and Struggle by Alix Lambert