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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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Freeze, Die, Come to Life is the harrowing story of two adolescents, Velarka (Pavel Nazarov) and Galicia (Dinara Drukarova) attempt to cope with poverty and an unstable home life in a Soviet mining town in Siberia near the close of World War II. This was the first film by Russian director, Vitaly Kanevsky, who served eight years in a Soviet labor camp.
Though the title is the name of a Russian children's game, the children here are not playing any games; the stakes are too high. Velarka's mother is a prostitute and the family is poor. Both he and Galicia must sell tea to workers, convicts, and local Japanese POWs in order to survive. Their relationship starts out as antagonistic but they slowly develop a friendship and grudging admiration for each other.
Left to fend for himself, Valerka gets into serious misadventures such as putting yeast in a school sewer causing an overflow onto the city streets, derailing a train, and helping to rob a jewelry store. He must keep running to avoid the police and pursuing jewel thieves. Though the film is bleak, the sensitive relationship of the children and the courage they display is what will stay with you. The ending is grisly but (anticipating Kiarostami's Taste of Cherry by eight years) the cameraman giving directions to the actors reminds us that "it's also a movie".
Freeze, Die, Come to Life was turned down by Russian censors and had to be edited several times before it was approved, giving it a somewhat disjointed feeling. In its final version, however, it won the 1990 Cannes Film Festival's prize for Best First Film. Unfortunately, it received scant distribution in the West and has become an overlooked gem.
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