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Two children living in a remote mining town in the distant wastes of Siberia in 1947, survive poverty and hardship through the warmth of their friendship and a shared sense of humour. Written by
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I don't know why I've seen so many reflexive, "only a movie" films lately, but here's another. It makes you wonder whether a viewer can choose to alter a film in his own mind, and take out the bits -- like this, for instance -- that partly ruin or deplete the experience for you. Aside from that, the film, which has rightly been assessed as being a kind of Russian "400 Blows," is awfully good, but since nothing really happens you may find yourself wishing it were shorter; but for me, it's enough to just enjoy the beautiful black and white cinematography, and the performance of this boy. It's a remarkable performance -- he's loud but not obnoxious, a little whiny but not snotty, cute but not sickly sweet. Even though the look and the feel of the film is unique -- or, a unique amalgam, I'll say -- even had it not been, it could rest quite well on the face of this boy, which is open, feminine, and almost Asian in its features, with sharp, tiny black eyes.
There are some pretty raucous scenes -- the most effective being a scene where villagers are clamoring for food handouts and one man eats a "pancake" of flour and mud, but also one at a cultural event (a ball of some sort?) where the visitors turn to drink. And like that other children's classic, "My Life as a Dog," it has one scene that will stay with you a while -- that one had the bottle scene, and this one has a scene where our hero gets peed on. (Unlike that film, not much attention is paid to sex; although there is one act of desperate adolescent sexual desire -- although it's more like a begging -- that's pretty good.)
The oblique narrative is sometimes hard to understand -- at least to me -- not tonally (it's neither light nor harsh, but it has a specific feel) but literally, and that's probably aided by the fact that the film is mostly a series of events rather than a kind of plot. That's fine, because many of the individual scenes are thoroughly interesting, and every once in a while we get one like the ice skate thieving, which is disorienting and lyrical at the same time. What's particularly interesting about the film, I think, is that it goes beyond mere mischievousness -- like James Dean, we are presented with a kid who wants to do the right thing, but everything he does gets screwed up. And it's surprising that we end up on his side, considering the fact that he at one point tips over a train. 9/10
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