Beanpole – Film Review
by Frank L.
Director: Kantemir Balagov
Writers: Kantemir Balagov, Aleksandr Terekhov
Stars: Viktoria Miroshnichenko, Vasilisa Perelygina, Andrey Bykov
The place is Leningrad. The time is Autumn 1945. It is a city that has been physically shattered by the long siege during the war with its surviving population both physically and mentally on the edge. Balagov who is a mere 28 years old has chosen this grim period of Russian history to depict. The backdrop of this film is a dull, dingy brown which he has described as “rusty, the rust of life”. Two young women who have survived the horrors of the Front and the siege try to bring their lives into some sort of balance among the wreckage and shortages that surround them. The women are Iya (Viktoria Miroschnichenko) whose nickname in Russian is “Beanpole” but that word in Russian also denotes internal clumsiness, i.e. someone who doesn’t handle her emotions well. She was at the Front but was sent back in a fragile mental state in order to work in an infirmary. Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina), on the other hand, managed to survive at the Front. She has been left with different mental and physical scars.
They both are now working in the infirmary. Their relationship is complicated by Pasha (Timofey Glazkov) a toddler, who is apparently the son of Beanpole, but is in fact Masha’s son. This is a good example of what Balagov is so astute at representing namely the complexity that war creates in human relationships and the ending of the war does not result in an end to the complexities. Both Iya and Misha need to sort their relationship but also their respective emotional relationships now that a sort of peace has returned. Balagov shows the challenges that arises for each as a result of what they have been through.
What is beautifully observed is the fact that because Leningrad is shattered those that have survived must live communally in cramped gloomy spaces which are very much the worse for wear. As regards washing, a memorable scene depicts many woman naked cleaning themselves in a large tiled wash room. Privacy has no standing in this community. Therefore, the creation of a specific new green dress is an event in itself. It is worn by Masha to a lunch which takes place exceptionally in a well ordered dining room with only four present… the hosts who are a well-heeled couple are the parents of a young man in whom Masha is interested. However, the “in ruins” motif dominates as is shown by the patients in the infirmary who are living evidence of the wreckage of war as they continue to exist with their catastrophic injuries. The options which they face are minimal as Balagov shows.
Balagov and his co-writer Aleksandr Terekhov have created a challenging narrative. At all times no matter how harrowing the content of the film is, the cinematography is calibrated with beautiful precision. The visual excellence alleviates the disturbing scenes that are being depicted. Another important part of this impressive film is the music by one Evgueni Galperine. Balagov as director brings the story, the sound and the visual together in a challenging harmony.
When a war ends the violence may indeed stop but the consequence of that violence do not disappear. For those that survive it is a crucial part of the rest of their lives. Balagov demonstrates this grim truth magnificently in this exceptional film. It is hard to believe he is only 28 years of age.