Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 07, 2019 7:48 am 
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Vibrant grimness

Kantemir Balagov is only 27 years old and this is his second feature; Jessica Kiang calls him in her Variety review a "blazing" talent. This is a long, agonizing study of two battle-scarred young woman working in a hospital in Leningrad, and those around them, just after the end of the War, showing how Russia and its people were ravaged then. The titular figure is Iya (Viktoria Mironshnichenko), whose height, pallor, and strange nervous and muscular condition got her that nickname.

The glowing look and the closeup intensity reminded me at first of Hungarian Laszlo Nemes' amazing debut featureSon of Saul (FCS/NYFF 2015). Balagov fools you, showing you a gallery of hopeless cases but then seeming to focus on cheer and life with Beanpolel's relationship to a cute little boy, then he delivers a rude shock. The plot is a tangled web of associations, manipulations, and disappointments. But if I understood Balagov correctly, the movie grows wholly out of his fascination with a book he discovered about PTSD among Russian woman after WWII, The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich. .

From early on, the action is almost too much to bear and too hard to watch. Yet all the characters, played by Non-actors, are vivid, and the images glow with yellows and ochres. The cinematography by Ksenia Sereda is great. As ugly and depressing as the events are, they look beautiful, and the director's youthful enthusiasm makes this contradiction seem not cynical but right. This is a film about youth - youth sabotaged. The rickety, minimal trappings - long trolley cars, ornate but ancient automobiles - still seem very alive, if, like the people, likely to collapse and die at any moment. One old but elegant vehicle is driven by Sasha (Igor Shirokov), who comes one night looking for fun, and his hilariously clumsy frolic with Iya's friend Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina) leads to a tenacious connection. He is homely but he turns out to be rich. He can woo Masha with fruit, salt, and other goodies she shares with Beanpole.

I didn't altogether buy into the action, even though I remained open to being astonished. It's all too much, and the main characters are too fluid. When Shasha takes Masha to meet his mother in a grand house, it's a typically jaw-dropping sequence, an opening up of the action that typically soon closes down. Like everything, it all feels improvised, but in some ways all the more real for that. I salute this wunderkind's remarkable talent and invention.

Balagov hit the Russia film scene by surprise only two years ago with his debut feature, Closeness, which also unexpectedly made it into Un Certain Regard at Cannes, where it won the FIPRESCI Prize. At the time even Russians hadn’t heard of the young director, a disciple of the great Alexander Sokurov, whom he gave a nod to in his NYFF introduction of the film as "my teacher." A great deal may be understood by exploring this connection, but obviously Balagov has made what he learned from Sokurov his own as any master pupil does. It seems beyond the point to say this is one to watch. This is a brilliant, unforgettable film.

Beanpole/Дылда (Dylda), 130 mins., debuted in Un Certain Regard at Cannes May 2019, winning its Best Director award. Seven other festivals followed, including Toronto and New York, screened at the latter for this10review. US theatrical release is planned for Jan. 29, 2020. Current Metascore 81%.

[Some of my information is drawn from this site: Russia Beyond.]

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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