Starring Viktoria Miroshnichenko, Vasilisa Perelygina, Andrey Bykov
Typically with Russian submissions to the Academy for International Film, you see dark, brutal, dramatic epics often focused on violence. Loveless and Leviathan come to mind. The Russian selection committee look to the future with promising 26-year-old director Kantemir Balagov, only on his third feature but already capturing three major awards at Cannes, two this year for Beanpole. It should come as no surprise that The Academy shortlisted the submission as one of the ten finalists. Balagov’s post-wartime film focuses on the women left to carry on as the men are shattered physically and mentally. Beanpole grows more disturbing with each scene as Balagov’s script dives deeper into our two female characters’ pathos. Going against trend and what audiences might expect for the 1945 time period, Beanpole is illuminated with stark contrasting color pallets of deep red and vibrant greens.
Discharged from serving her country, Iya Sergueeva (Miroshnichenko) suffers from a condition that renders her unable to move. “Frozen” is the lay term people use to describe the catatonic-like state Iya can enter in at any moment. Her extremely tall stature has garnered the nickname “Beanpole” and she has been left in charge of her best friend’s child. Masha (Perelygina) returns home from war service, giddy to start the rest of her life and finally be a mother to young Pashka (Timofey Glazkov). The two young women’s happiness soon fall prey to tragedy, but Masha’s reaction to the extreme circumstance is shocking even to Iya. Both women gain employment at the local veterans hospital, where Masha’s keen observations provide a new path to happiness.
It’s the cringeworthy moments of Beanpole that compel you to keep watching.
Balagov’s script might be obvious for those who understand the filmmaking techniques he is employing. In each act, as you get to know the characters, their motivations are more than obvious once you start thinking in dramatic hypotheticals. This predictability however is constantly surrounded by unusual circumstances that even out the narrative in Beanpole. There are times when Balagov doesn’t move things along as quickly as he should and a few unnecessary long takes, yet for the most part he’s assembled a film unlike any of recent memory submitted from Russia. The performances from both Miroshnichenko and Perelygina are exceptional, even the Russian equivalent to Lesley Manville, Kseniya Kutepova, makes a mark on your memory.
It’s the cringeworthy moments of Beanpole that compel you to keep watching. Beanpole has the most lifeless sex scene you are likely to see on film this year, followed later by one of the most uncomfortable and distressing ones. Balagov portrays men in his stories as withdrawn and powerless. It’s the women, both those who remained and those returning from war, who hold the power in this particular story. For all of its peculiarities, Beanpole isn’t simply just a film about people suffering from PTSD, it’s far more complex and we would need a psychologist to really explain and explore what’s going on here, especially with Masha.
Beanpole is not what you expect from a Russian film, Balagov has curated something very unique and unsettling.