MOSCOW: Alexei Balabanov, a director who captured the essence of Russia's early post-Soviet years with cult films about crime and the war in Chechnya, has died at the age of 54 following a long illness.

"The films of Alexei Balabanov are a collective portrait of our country at its most dramatic time in history," Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev wrote on Facebook. "I liked his work. The passing of a talented director is a great loss for friends and fans alike. Condolences."

Balabanov, who made 16 films and died while working on a new production in Saint Petersburg on Saturday, was most famous in Russia for his classics "Brat" (Brother) and "Brat 2".–AFP

The graphic films follow the story of a youth who is forced to lead a life of violence and crime on the streets of Balabanov's native Saint Petersburg at a time when Russia had few post-Soviet laws and life seemed in a permanent state of flux.

"Brother 2" moves a part of the action to Chicago, reflecting the steady flow of shadowy but rich Russians to the West.

Balabanov's 2007 film "Cargo 200" - the name assigned to bodies returned from the Soviet Union's deeply unpopular 1980s war in Afghanistan - was especially praised by critics.

It "is a special movie," tweeted popular Russian television personality and opposition movement member Ksenia Sobchak.

"It is about (human) indifference, which is hell."

Balabanov was also highly praised for the movie "War", about Chechnya, where Russia fought two brutal campaigns in the past two decades.

"This is a tragedy - a huge tragedy for Russian film," the Kommersant business daily wrote on Sunday.

Balabanov's friends said the director was aware of being gravely ill several months ago, but the cause of his death was not made public.–AFP