January 31, 2021 – A long, slow, tragic story about the Russian soul and lesbians. This Kino Lorber release is set in postwar Soviet Leningrad (now named St. Petersberg, and a hundred years ago, it was called Petrograd) right after some of the worst fighting in World War II.
I'm still trying to catch up on last year's movies, so I streamed this one last night. Since I don't speak Russian, I think some of the story got lost in the translation to English subtitles, but I got the gist of it.
During World War II, the siege of Leningrad saw some of the worst conditions anywhere during the war, as supplies were cut off, and the intense fighting was block to block. The residents of the city suffered terribly.
The echoes of that suffering are evident in this film about two young women struggling with the emotional scars of the war, and specifically, the death of a young boy, Pashka, the son of Masha (played by Vasilisa Perelygina). Pashka is accidentally suffocated by his caretaker, and Masha's friend, Iya Sergueeva (AKA Beanpole, played by Viktoria Miroshnichenko).
Iya is known as Beapole because she is six feet tall and very thin (I looked her up to see how tall she really is, and she is actually three inches shorter than actress Elizabeth Debicki, who played a main character in the 2020 film, “Tenet”). Iya accidentally kills Pashka because of a seizure, caused by a head injury suffered in the war.
When Masha returns from the war, Iya is unable to tell her the real reason for Pashka's death, telling her that he died in his sleep. Masha seems to suspect there is more to this story, but doesn't press Iya on details. Instead, she waits, and watches, looking for a chance for retribution.
Masha, who has had a hysterectomy, and can no longer bear children, gets a job at the hospital where Iya works and keeps an eye on what's going on. One night, she sees Iya administer a fatal drug dose to a paralyzed patient who has asked for euthanasia. Iya is also asked to do this by her supervisor, Nikolai Ivanovich.
Masha uses this knowledge to blackmail Iya into bearing a child for her and to blackmail Nikolai Ivanovich into fathering the child for her. Masha also plans to marry a naive rich young man, Sasha (Igor Shirokov).
Masha's schemes run into problems, particularly when she meets Sasha's parents, who are not as impressed with her as Sasha is. Masha admits to Sasha's parents that she is not the war hero she pretended to be, but just a woman who did what she had to to survive the war.
Iya is very upset with Masha's relationship with Sasha and plans to leave Leningrad, but there is a final twist to this story. The story is very grim and largely depressing, but not totally so. The film is also notable for having several extended scenes of female nudity.
Aside from Vasilisa Perelygina's performance as Masha, most of the rest of the performances in this film are so low-key as to be almost non-existant. The lethargic pace of this overlong film is also a problem, with some scenes being extended long past their welcome.
As an exploration of the emotional scars of war, however, it works. The intense relationship between Masha and Iya, without being overtly sexual, is explored in some depth. However, I would not recommend this film to someone who is depressed, particularly in these grim days. This film rates a B.
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