It’s 2002 in a rundown orphanage in a remote, god forsaken corner of Russia. The boys live in hope of being picked out by one of few visiting couples keen on adoption. Sweet six-year-old Vanya (Kolya Spiridonov) is one day lucky enough to be chosen by a visiting Italian couple. While he waits for the papers to be sorted out, Vanya begins to think about his real mother. Convinced that she lives under the Mediterranean sun and that he can find her he runs away and sets off on an incredible journey.
St Petersburg-based filmmaker Andrei Kravchuk’s feature debut is an enjoyably dark childhood fable. The first half in the orphanage – with its consumptive air and workhouse hierarchies – is marked by a feeling of hopelessness and imminent violence, the threat of which is only half delivered. The second half by comparison is euphoric but still fraught with danger. Vanya becomes a journeyman Oliver Twist; beset by crime and despair, he carries on, driven by blood and emotion.
Indeed, The Italian is the kind of kiddie road movie that we deserve, one that mixes cruelty and benevolence in the same cup. Cinematographer Aleksandr Burov captures the busted, peeling, overgrown, frozen land of post communist Russia with a photojournalist’s zeal, while renowned soundman Aliakper Gassan-Zade’s complex sound design is simply stunning. Recommended.
Filmhouse, Edinburgh, Fri 22–Tue 26 Feb.