In the Soviet Union communal living arrangements in multifamily dwellings were considered a normal part of life. To contemporary Russian filmmakers they can serve as a handy metaphor for both the achievements and shortcomings of the communist system. Valeri Ogorodnikov's Barracks is set in the early 50s within the barren landscape of a small provincial town, where the oddball residents include a feisty mute and an eccentric one-legged photographer. Stark black-and-white images are followed by warmer sepia-toned sequences, which are followed by scenes shot in deeply saturated colors. For much of its first hour the film wanders around the story lines of more than a dozen characters, juxtaposing petty feuds and serious crimes, unrequited love and moments of joy, and—rare for an eastern European film—touching on the deeply rooted ethnic prejudices of the region. Only toward the end does the film, suddenly streamlined and focused, realize its potential as a serious commentary on the social tapestry of the Soviet Union—imbuing the largely bleak earlier part with compassion and hope.