May 9, 2007 -- “The Italian” (Italianetz) is about a young boy in a cruel world seeking his long-lost family. Set in modern-day Russia, it features both the cruelty of people and their generosity of spirit in a very cruel environment. The young boy, Vanya Solntsev (Kolya Spiridonov), is one of the lucky ones at a run-down orphanage. A wealthy couple from Italy has agreed to adopt him. Soon, he will be out of the orphanage and out of Russia's cold climate. He will live a life of privilege in sunny, warm Italy. But Vanya is haunted by the thought that his real mother might want him back after a woman visits the orphanage looking for the son she gave up for adoption. Vanya speaks to the woman and tells him about her son, who was adopted recently. He later hears the woman killed herself.
Vanya resolves to find his mother and make sure she doesn't want him back before going to live with the family in Italy. Vanya does not know how to find his mother. He doesn't know where she lives. Orphanage officials will lose a lot of money if the adoption falls through. They are determined to keep Vanya at the orphanage until the deal goes through. The young organized crime toughs at the orphanage, who force the orphans to work on the street also don't want Vanya to leave because that would upset the system and cut into their own profits. Vanya is threatened and beaten for his desire to find his mother, but is undeterred. He finds help along the way in a prostitute with a heart of gold and a kindly night watchman, and an even more unlikely source of help. Vanya's journey is a long, difficult and dangerous one.
While the film does expose the deplorable conditions of some of Russia's rural orphanages and illegal adoption-for-sale practices, it is mainly about Vanya's personal journey. It is about love, family, and the power of kindness to overcome the cruelty in the world. The performances are very effective, including Kolya Spiridonov as Vanya. Many of the roles in the film are filled by non-professional actors. The film effectively captures the bleak orphanage and the dreary Russian weather, snow on the ground, pervasive clouds and rain. That makes the bright light at the end of the film all the more startling. This film rates a B. The English version of this film has English subtitles to translate the film's Russian dialogue.
The information in this paragraph reveals the resolution of the film. Don't read this if you don't want to know the story's outcome.
The ending of this film is quite abrupt and a bit puzzling to some. I figured out from the few clues at the end that Vanya finds his mother and stays with her, but not all audience members get that. This is very briefly revealed in a letter that Vanya writes to a friend at the orphanage who winds up being adopted by the same people in Italy who originally wanted to adopt Vanya. The ending is also revealed in the film's production notes where the film's director, Andrei Kravchuk, says, “When we finished the film, the producers, the screenwriter and I debated the ending for a long time. We concluded that it would be unfair to the main character not to reward him somehow at the end. That’s how we came up with the final exchange of letters between Vanya and the boy who goes to Italy instead of him.” I agree with Kravchuk's decision. If Vanya went unrewarded for his heroic efforts, that would be a real downer. The film is bleak enough as it is.
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