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Regardt van den Bergh
I had the opportunity to watch this film for free as part of the Italian Contemporary Film Festival in Toronto. Walter Nudo was in attendance and responded to some questions, albeit inconsistently. On one occasion, when asked about the seemingly random choice of the Russian setting, he responded it was an attempt to make the film "as realistic and as true as possible". Later on when one viewer appropriately commented on the film being so heavily laden with clichés and stereotypes, and thereby losing any of its potential "power", he lauded her honesty, yet reminded her to see the film as "a little fairy tale". Yet another viewer asked about the filmmaker's insistence to use Western music rather than Russian music throughout the film. Mr. Nudo claimed this was intentional and that it was meant to make the film more "international". I don't really believe that. I think Mr. Nudo was coming up with excuses for a film that was half-baked at best. Choosing "Deck the Halls" as a recurring Russian Christmas theme rather than, let's say, Leontovych's "Carol of the Bells" is probably because Mr. Zanoli did not understand the difference. The choice of a Russian setting to criticize Russian health care when none of the production team seemed to be Russian was insulting given how poorly thought out this film was.
Nothing in this film is new or innovative. The acting was often jarringly amateurish. Mr. Nudo was his usual natural self, but only God knows what happened to the casting director when they chose Sharon Hayes and Laural Merlington for their parts. The acting was often so over-the-top that I was certain by the end that this film was meant for children only. Apparently, I was wrong as Mr. Nudo asserted this film was not meant for children. Needless to say, I can't help but scratch my head. I couldn't help but laugh when Mr. Nudo referred to this film as "deep and profound". This is as deep and profound as Tommy Wiseau's "The Room". If you have the faintest capacity to think critically, you will see that coming from the opening scene.
I won't go into all the details of what went wrong here: The anachronisms, the unnatural timing of scenes and delivery of dialogue, the monotonous nature of some characters who were consistently (and annoyingly) loud, the incongruous score for certain scenes and the terrible lack of realism (despite Mr. Nudo's assertions) are just a few of the film's issues. I find it frustrating when people use children as a crutch to support their film. Some of the child actors did an excellent job, some didn't and there was no chance their preciousness could save this film either way.
Here's what I think: Mr. Zanoli hoped to move Solzhenitsyn's "Cancer Ward" into a paediatric setting and inject a manly, Italian Fraeulein Maria into it (Mr. Nudo) to give it a wholesome "The Sound of Music"-like touch. Many writers have terrible ideas but they don't usually materialize, because no one is willing to participate in such an abysmal failure, if it will cost them. That considered, the mere existence of this film is a miracle, but it's a miracle no one needs to witness.
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