Beanpole

 

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An extraordinary film from Russia about the relationship between two women.

 
Beanpole

Vasilisa Perelygina and Viktoria Miroshnichenko

 

Kantemir Balagov’s film is set in Leningrad just after World War II when the community is trying to rebuild their lives following the destruction of the city. Balagov concentrates on two women, Iya and Masha, who are both nurses living and working in a hospital, looking after the patients, many of whom are soldiers returning from the war with physical and mental injuries. Iya is the ‘beanpole’ of the title, a tall thin girl who seems to be an innocent trying to cope with life. She is very close to her friend Masha to the point of a physicality that borders on the edge of lesbianism, although it is never openly specified as such. They both have their problems with men as their partners remain in hospital with war injuries.

Iya has become the carer of Masha’s son, who is malformed in some way. Extraordinarily Iya smothers the life out of the child, either accidentally or on purpose, because we never really know either way. Masha wants to have another child but seems physically incapable of conceiving again, so Iya agrees to have a baby and give it to Masha. However, Masha still tries to become pregnant by an unsuitable local teenage boy, after which Iya then virtually becomes Masha’s partner by forcing her own misguided love-hate passion onto her friend.

Balagov, still in his late twenties, appears to have all the experience of a director twice his age, even though this is only his second film. The way he handles his actors is both brutal and sympathetic. He elicits extraordinary performances from Viktoria Mirsoshnichenko as Iya and Vasilisa Perelygina as Masha, as well as his supporting cast of Konstantin Balakirev as Stepan and Nikolay Ivanovich as Bykov, two of the men in the women’s lives. The film resonates with harrowing detail, but slowly and surely in a very positive and mature way. Some of the scenes are uncomfortably bleak with despair but then, following the ravages of war, the population of Leningrad were fighting to become human again. Beanpole was a prizewinner at Cannes this year, repeating the success of his first film, Closeness, in 2017. Kantemir Balagov is obviously an important director to watch.

 

MICHAEL DARVELL

 

Cast: Viktoria Miroshnichenko, Vasilisa Perelygina, Konstantin Balakikev, Andrey Bykov, Ksenia Kutepova, Igor Shirokov, Olga Dragunova, Timofey Glazkov.

 

Dir Kantemir Balagov, Pro Natalia Gorina, Sergey Melkumov, Ellen Rodnianski and Alexander Rodnyansky, Screenplay Kantemir Balagov and Aleksandr Terekhov, Ph Kseniya Sereda, Pro Des Sergey Ivanov, Ed Igor Litoninskiy, Music Evgueni Galperine, Costumes Olga Smirnova.

 

AR Content/Non-Stop Productions-BTeam Pictures

130 mins. Russia. 2019. Rel: 3 October 2019. Cert. 18.