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Two teenage Russian boys have their father return home suddenly after being absent for 12 years. The father takes the boys on a holiday to a remote island on a lake in the north of Russia that turns into a test of manhood of almost mythic proportions. Written by
Sujit R. Varma
When Ivan is sitting in the car, the camera pans around the car (before we see him grab the binoculars and begin to use them) - as it pans past the triangular car window you can see the camera reflected in it. See more »
[on-screen caption: Sunday]
[boy falls in the water, then floats up]
Jump as we agreed! Who climbs down the ladder is a cowardly wanker.
[swims to the shore]
Boy on Tower:
Go on, Vityok. You're next.
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During the end credits, there are still photos. See more »
Strong performances and interesting direction and development make up for the weaknesses inherent in such a minimalistic film
Andrei and Ivan have lived the vast majority of their lives with their mother and grandmother. They find this dynamic changed when their father turns up after 12 years absence. While Andrei seems happy with this and keen to try and bond with his father, the younger Ivan is much more stubborn and reluctant being suspicious of this man's motives. The three go on a trip fishing for a few days, which turns into a much longer time as the father has 'business'. As the journey continues Ivan struggles with a father who is strict and strangely cruel.
On the back of awards and good reviews I was interested enough to go and watch this film at the cinema. Not being a great thinker myself, I usually find the 'you work it out' attitude of art-house films to be rather annoying and unfair and sadly there was an element of that with this film. The narrative is interesting enough to keep you in your seat but just don't expect anything to be explained; in fact there was not even enough information to even really interpret what was going on by the end of the film I was left with buckets of questions but hardly a single answer I wanted to ask the others in the cinema (all 4 of us) if they had 'got it' and if it was just me. However what saves this film from being another obscure arty movie is the delivery and the journey we are taken on. For all the unknowns the film is still gripping, even if it is slow at the same time. The journey is an interesting one and one that sees the characters grow in ways I was captivated by even if I didn't understand it all. I would have liked even a little bit of information by the end but I was content that I had witnesses a story and, like some things in life, you don't get all the facts I was just like the boys in the film, not knowing what was going on but involved in it nonetheless.
For a debut feature the direction from Zvyagintsev was excellent. It was full of great shots, great camera movement and wonderful use of surroundings to create a world where only these three are no other cars and barely any other people. For this same reason, praise should be endlessly heaped onto cinematographer Krichman as he makes everything look eerily beautiful and calm. The direction aids the minimal story and helped keep me interested, but the clincher for me were the performances. The only named characters are the two boys and, as such, the best performances come from them. Everyone knows that Garin died in an accident similar to the films opening tower-jumping scene and it casts a bit of a shadow over his performance to think that such a young man has died needlessly, but his performance here is still assured. He is keen but he stills allows us to see bits of doubt and fear in his eyes like a loyal dog coming back after a beating. Dobronravov gives a completely different performance that is much more showy and powerful and he totally surprised me such a strong and believable performance from so young a boy, he makes Hollywood's blockbuster preening child 'actors' appear to be the bland products that many of them are. Lavronenko's 'father' is a brooding beast who is hard to understand and he plays him fairly blankly. In a way this works but I did wonder if Lavronenko really understood his character either. Two or three others are in the film but, as the character names suggest, the film belongs to Krichman and the late Garin and they do not struggle with this responsibility.
Overall I will not claim to fully understand what the story was about or if it was an allegory for wider issues but the story is still engaging and emotional. The delivery is pretty much perfect although I imagine many audiences will be put off by both the lack of information and the slow pace.
The direction and cinematography are superb and the two boys in the lead put many other child actors to shame by the sheer confidence and ability they have in delivering such complex characters and emotions.
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