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Alexandr (Russian Ark) Sokorov's Father and Son (Otets y sin) wow! What a
beautiful, dreamlike, homoerotic film, and also what a wildly self-indulgent
one! A beefy man (Andrei Schetinin), a soldier, we're told, who smiles a lot
and looks like Farley Granger (his acting seems to consist mostly of
smiling), has a son, Aleksei (Aleksei Neymyshev), who looks like his younger
brother but has broader shoulders and an even more spectacularly defined
body, and who is studying medicine in military school. The classes seem to
consist of manly tussling in camouflage gear. The film begins with a manly
tussle -- of son and dad, naked in a bed, filmed abstractly, showing only
parts of the body in grainy low light, like the lovemaking scene of the
French model and the Japanese architect in the sand at the opening of
Resnais' Hiroshima mon amour. Everything in Father and Son is seen in soft
focus through a pale amber/gold filter. Everything is beautiful and unreal.
The director has declared himself shocked and irritated by our feeling that the content is homoerotic, and therefore incestuous. There are cultural differences here: one remembers the Russian soldiers in Cartier-Bresson's Fifties photo holding hands in a museum. Americans are over-touchy about homoeroticism, none the less so if they're gay, and one can't question Sokorov's assertion that for him, this is a poem about parental relationships along male lines, about the son's need to break away on his own and become a man, and nothing at all about the homoerotic. The beautiful tussling bodies and the two almost clone-like men are meant innocently as ways of showing intimacy poetically and visually.
Sokorov is an avantgardist, and it's perhaps a bit of an accident that his previous film, Russian Ark, became so wildly popular with the non-Russian art house crowd. Somehow the technical feat of the single take and the variety, color, and prettiness of the images endlessly unfolding in Russian Ark rendered it more palatable to a general audience than usual. His stylistic methods generally demand great patience and openness from an audience. But Father and Son grows on one. It may seem bland, boring, incomprehensible at first, but eventually, if you let it, if you absorb its language and give in to its mood, it works its magic. The movie also has a timeless quality. It may evoke Eisenstein or Cocteau. Its Lisbon setting, also magical, is nowhere and everywhere, a place of the imagination that could be Russia, or Europe, or Baltimore in the Fifties.
Father and son apparently have lived together in a certain isolation for a long time. Sokorov creates his own space. Out of the dark apartments the men leap across a board onto the adjoining roof, where a friend of the son also comes out. The men jump on the board with athletic abandon. They could be gymnasts or ballet dancers, so great is their agility. There's also something incredibly manly about their voices as they talk in low voices in the Russian tongue (which I don't know at all); this effect also was created in Vozvrashchnenie (The Return, by Andrei Zvyagintsev), another recent Russian film that had its own unique mood and look. You walk out of the theater listening to American voices and they sound squeaky and puerile. It's not so important what they're saying; the literal meaning isn't significant. It's a kind of music, and it's accompanied by a muted soundtrack of classical music by Sergei Moshkov that works another kind of suble spell with its hints and portents. (The sound track is unique.) This could be a silent film. The focus is intensely on the visual. The cinematography by Aleksandr Burov is beautiful.
There is a sequence of scenes, but very little that can be described as a story line. There's a neighbor and friend of Aleksei's, Sasha (Aleksandr Razbash), whose father has disappeared (a rhyming and contrasting subplot). He and Aleksei (the son) go down into town and take a long tram ride. In this uneventful film, that tram ride is a big deal: it's the main event, in a way, and the dreamlike, gorgeous photography gives the ride an unforgettable quality. Aleksei and his friend, and Aleksei and his father, stand so close together you think they're going to kiss each other. There's lots of manly affection here: it really is manly, even if it takes you a while to grasp that. Aleksei also has a girlfriend and he breaks up with her because she has acquired a mysterious older boyfriend, although he has just dreamed of their having a child. Abstractly, in these details, the idea of fatherhood and of the intervention of a father in the life of a son are alluded to.
The girlfriend is a bit unworthy in this macho film. She seems a pinched little girl like a beggar in a Charlie Chaplin movie.
These details can only be sketched in because that's the way they are. When one sees Father and Son one realizes that the plotlessness of Russian Ark wasn't specific to that `story,' but Sokorov's usual modus operandi.
The pretty homoerotic sequences in Father and Son recall Derek Jarman's arty and lovely but repetitive dramatizations of Shakespeare's male-love sonnets in The Angelic Conversation(1985) -- except here there is no textual basis, so the movie's relatively rudderless, but also flows from sequence to sequence more seamlessly. Though the message, if any, is that father-son love is a wonderful thing, there's also the son's fatalistic remark, ''A father's love crucifies, and a loyal son accepts crucifixion.''
It's hard to tell at times if Sokorov's film is a big snooze or a beautiful reverie. Due to the plotlessness and the glacial pace, this can hardly be expected to catch on with mainstream audiences. Father in Son is best appreciated not as a narrative but a visual poem. It takes you into another world -- a world you may find alien and yet not want to leave.
This is part of a trilogy. There has been Mother and Son, now this, and there will be Two Brothers and a Sister.
Aleksandr Sokurov is as artist of the highest order. Not only does he
understand his medium of film as his chosen avenue of creating art, he
has the gifts of ingenuity, fresh creativity, and daring that make his
works unique and stunning without any of the hoopla of 'experimental'
filmmakers: Sokurov honors his humanity and celebrates the miracle of
life with every stroke of his hand.
For those first introduced to Sokurov by viewing his extraordinary Russian ARK, a film of such importance historically as well as culturally and artistically that it stands alone: the conception and pre-camera preparation of covering 300 years of Russian history as played out in the Hermitage Museum buildings allowed this master to turn on the camera and record non-stop for the hour and a half of the complete story. The result is breathtakingly beautiful and enormously educational and enlightening - all that one can ask from a work of art.
In FATHER AND SON Sokurov has distilled all of his energy into a quiet, rhapsodic, sensually elegant examination of the relationship between a father and son. There is not much story: there is much being said. A father (the handsome and sensual Andrei Shchetinin) lives with his son Aleksei (Aleksei Nejmyshev - as handsome and virile and tender as Shchetinin) in a rooftop flat in St. Petersberg. The father has had a military career and the son is now at age 19 in military school studying medicine along with his training. The mother is dead and the father and son are closely bonded by her absence and by an amazing love for each other.
Aleksei has had a girlfriend (the incandescently beautiful Marina Zasukhina) but seeing that she is competing unsuccessfully for Aleksei's love for his father, she informs him she has found another love. Another young military student Sasha (Aleksandr Razbash) observes the strong bond between Aleksei and his father and being without a father, asks to move in their flat. Knowing that their time as unified family is limited by the way life passes, the two remain living alone.
Aleksei has dreams that approach nightmares but generally deal with separation anxiety. The father is always there to console Aleksei after his dreams and gently encourages him to pursue the life that will bring him happiness.
And that is really the bulk of the story, simple and short as it may sound. The brilliance of Sokurov's genius is in his means of telling this simple tale. He has elected to film using varying lenses and limiting his color spectrum to the sepia tones that resemble daguerreotypes come to life. His use of moments of Tchaikovsky melodies is sensitive and additive to the mood. His ability to linger over extended physical embraces between this father and son says more about love than any filmmaker before him. Part of the magic he creates is due to the physical beauty of the two actors embracing in the nude in the soft winter light of their rooftop flat.
Some viewers have found this homo-erotic and are concerned about that aspect of a father with son. A pity, that, being concerned about homo-eroticism: the passion between father and son should be able to be viewed on every level for its richness, not for the fear of censorship.
FATHER AND SON is one of the most beautiful artworks on film I have ever viewed. I felt the same about Russian ARK. I eagerly await viewing his MOTHER AND SON and all the other works that hopefully will flow from Sokurov's gifted mind and talent. Highly recommended. Grady Harp, March 2005
Alexander Sokurov's Mother and Son had a sense of joy and love tempered by a
setting in an ominous dark forest. The second part of the trilogy, Father
and Son has no such ambivalence. It is drenched in sunlight and bathed in a
glow of greens and browns. The film opens with the image of two male bodies
in bed, their naked bodies intertwined in a rapturous embrace. One is
breathing rapidly; the other is trying to comfort him. We think these must
be gay lovers, but soon discover that it is a father comforting his son
after a nightmare. Though the film feels homoerotic, Sokurov chafed at the
suggestion calling it the product of sick European minds. According to the
director, "Their (father and son) love is almost of mythological virtue and
scale. It cannot happen in real life", and the film is "the incarnation of a
fairy tale. Shot in Lisbon, Portugal, Father and Son is not attached to time
or place. A soldier's uniform is depicted in the latest style, while women's
dresses and hairstyles are of the 40s, 50s and 60s.
Father (Andrei Shetinin) and son (Alexei Nejmyshev) live together on the top floor of an apartment house and have done so for many years since the death of their mother. Their world looks like a sanctuary but may be a prison. It was while attending a school for air cadets that the father met his wife and bore his son, now 20. His son's physical appearance reminds the father of his late wife and their bond is intense and emotional. Alexei attends military school like his father who left military service against his will and wants his son to pick up where he left off. He has a girl friend but there is a distance between them. She is jealous of his relationship with his father that to her appears overprotective and he does not want to give up his father's closeness.
Alexei's father is conflicted about looking for a job in a different city and seeking a new wife. They must decide whether to continue their lives together or independently. The struggle for freedom and independence is mutual but they are held together by a transcendent love. Father and Son is an enigmatic but deeply poetic film about the complex bond that a son has with his father. While the film is open to interpretation from different cultural, psychological, or religious points of view (the film says, `A father who loves his son crucifies him. A son who loves his father sacrifices himself for him'), for me, the best approach is to avoid the temptation to analyze and just bathe in the warmth of its loving glow.
The second film in the trilogy director Alexander Sokurov (Russian Ark)
began with Mother and Son (1996) focuses on the obsessive, intimate
love between a youthful father and his teenage son. They play sport and
tousle together, confide in and are everything to each other but now
the son is close to adulthood, it's time to separate.
Apparently Sokurov intended to show that the ambivalence of their lover-like relationship is due to the father's unresolved feelings for his dead wife, but the film is not entirely successful in communicating that. Their closeness inspires jealousy in the son's girlfriend, a neighbour and a visitor, yet the homo eroticism in Father and Son is not just between them, but in the way the camera views other men, particularly soldiers. Although this allegedly unintentional subtext could offend, it does not, due to the hyper-real, mythic tone. The slow pace of the film is offset by a pervasive, abstract sensuality, emphasised by Alexander Burov's beautiful cinematography. Whispering kettles and dripping taps form an industrial ambiance that helps to slow time down and frame the background a dark quiet house that is as insular as this familial relationship.
Although Father and Son will frustrate those seeking a more plot-driven film, it is memorable. The indefinable closeness between the two men is never threatening. It merely emphasises the similarity between what philosopher CS Lewis described as the Four Loves storage (familial love), love between friends (philia), eros (sexual love) and agape (spiritual love).
Just a short note: It seems that a lot of people don't know what to make of Aleksandr Sokurov's "Father & Son". Though more accessible than the monumental "Russian Ark", "Father" is still a baffling, hard film to grasp. Looking like an archival photograph from beginning to end and lacking a traditional story, it very much resembles a dream. There's a lot of vague poetic talk about abandonment, security, being saved, and such. Largely abstract, one of the few concrete elements of the film is the fact that both father (Andrej Shetinin) and son (Alexei Nejmyshev) are beautiful. Shetinin especially is stunning. It's not unexpected for people to see some homoerotic angles. When a film is this abstract I guess the tendency is to latch on to the most obvious, most concrete aspect. And we can never underestimate the fearpossibly homophobia?of seeing men getting emotional with each other, much less 2 attractive ones. It's a taboo so strongly ingrained in some cultures that it surpasses the simple fact that the 2 men in question are father and son. It's rare for me to see explorations of paternal bonds on film, especially one this deep so I had to readjust my mindset. If one can go beyond these obstacles you may just see an intense, poetic look into the relationship of two adult men, father and son.
This film is bound to cause extreme reactions, either total rejection or total enchantment. Much confusion is caused by Sokurov's unusually intimate portrayal of a father/son relationship. Rather than encouraging a homosexual interpretation, the film is a meditation on the fundamental relationship of father and son. If the viewer is willing to follow the film's slow pace and the almost mythical story, he/she will be rewarded by stunningly beautiful cinematography and a deeply emotional experience. Especially male viewers may find themselves invigorated after watching the film - it's hard to say why; maybe because inside of us, there's a deep longing for the love and life-force of the father.
This is an extraordinary film that explores an area still barely touched by artists and other, academic psychologists: the father-son bond, its complexity, ambivalence, pathos, and depth. All are illuminated by the director, Alexander Sokurov. The text is spare; the cinematography is heartbreakingly beautiful. (I have not seen a man's face explored as intimately on screen since Olivier Martinez was filmed in THE CHAMBERMAID ON THE TITANIC.) Every man who has had a father must see this film. It speaks of what Nicole Oxenhandler calls the eros of parenthood but now at the level of the male's late adolescence. Sokurov understands the tension between love and rivalry that is at the core of the son-father relationship. Like the relationship itself, the audio is quiet, with the occasional outburst. Sokurov confirms that a young man learns how to love (women, other men, eventually his own sons and daughters) by loving his father, in early boyhood (which we only have hints about in the film) and then again at the time when son and father must separate. Fathers, take you son to see this film.
As an American gay man, it was impossible for me to watch this film
without a great deal of wishful thinking. I'm amused by the discussion
(in reviews here and elsewhere) about homo-erotic content. I'm guessing
the generally stunted nature of male/male interaction in the U.S. will
negate the ability of most straight American viewers to see this movie
as anything OTHER than sexual. And that's a shame.
I love this movie and not just for the eye candy. It's an exploration of relationships between males as much as it is about fathers and sons, a topic that is generally ignored in films. Unless we're talking about guys shooting or beating each other up. Men can love other men without wanting to boink them. I wish Americans could grasp that concept.
I have the feeling that this film has a back story that makes all of the interaction between the father and son perfectly logical. The point is, I think, that the back story is unnecessary. What is necessary--and fascinating--is to see how this father and son treat each other. The traditional father/son boundaries are in evidence, but their interdependence has blurred the lines. They're protective of each other, and neither one wants to hurt the other. But both realize that hurt is coming, one way or the other.
Dreams are depicted, but the whole film feels like a dream because of the pacing and the way it's photographed. This adds to the initial confusion about what the father/son relationship actually is. To my mind, this is a good thing.
This is one movie that becomes more, uh, plausible, with repeated viewing. Gay men especially should plan to watch this movie at least twice. Trust me, the first time you'll be completely blown away watching these two sexually magnetic men treating each other with affection and respect in a nonsexual way. This is something we rarely get to see, even in gay movies. You'll need to watch it a second time to "get" the movie, and for that you'll need to be aware that their physical intimacy and touchy-feely relationship is a cultural thing, not a gay thing.
I'm a sucker for Russian films, generally, as well as beautifully-photographed films, and films with non-lineal content. Here's one that's got it all, and with a cherry on top: two accomplished and beautiful actors you can't take your eyes off of.
This film was a wonderful experience! I didn't understand everything that
was going on but it is so beautifully filmed with such a poetic and touching
atmosphere that I've just let myself go with the flow and enjoyed every
moment of it. This is mainly around the relationship between a father and
his son. They seem very close, and they seem to have shared a lot in the
past. Although much is unsaid and you have to imagine or feel it, which is
Further more it is very homo-erotic : Sokurov has filmed a father and his son but it could as well have been two lovers. Not that there is any incest going on but you can really feel their emotional and physical closeness.
Maybe if I had seen the first film in director Aleksandr Sokurov's trilogy,
"Mother and Son," then "Father and Son (Otets i syn)" as Part 2 would have
made some sense.
Instead, I found the beautiful imagery contradicting the limited dialogue. The camera loves the two lead actors to the extent that I simply could not figure out if paternal love was crossing over into incest or just homo-eroticism.
Andrei Shchetinin is one handsome, presumably widowed father and he spends a lot of time shirtless and working out. Aleksei Nejmyshev as his 20 year old son has mesmerizing blue eyes who understandably makes his possibly current or ex girlfriend weak in the knees by his penetrating stare.
And that's about all that happens.
The lead characters and their male friends spend a lot of time urgently telling each other they need to talk and then staring into space, or down at their shoes, or at each other. They do kick around a ball like such a pair would in American films, but they don't even talk about sports as a substitute for real interchange.
I was sorely reminded of Andy Warhol films, let alone satires of Ingmar Bergman films, but the cinematography was warm and lovely.
At least I got to see some of St. Petersburg and Lisbon, which I think is standing in for parts of St. Petersburg, while they are wandering around emoting and inarticulate. (At least all the final credits were in English.)
The intensity of the central relationship is shown very effectively as they enter each other's dreams, but the repeated parables about father's and son's roles in crucifixion sounded pithier than was demonstrated metaphorically.
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