Beanpole is this year’s Russian entry for Best Foreign Film, and it would be amiss to say it isn’t highly deserved. Beanpole is by no means an easy watch, but any cinephile will marvel in its technical detail, superb performances and beautiful production design.
Beanpole, the nickname given to the tall and lanky lead character, has a second meaning in Russian, clumsy. Set post-war Leningrad, only days after the end of World War 2, the director, Kantemir Balagov, in his 2nd feature film, has taken inspiration from a non-fiction book, The Unwomanly Face of War, which revolves around Russian women of World War 2. Beanpole, or Dylda in Russian, is a very different look at the after-effects of war, and it achieves this by telling a feminine side of the story. These two women have survived a hellish war, yet the aftermath isn’t much better.
This is a world where the question of are your children still alive is commonplace. Where women will sleep with men for food. It’s a city with no dogs because all the dogs have all been eaten. Beanpole has a fairly unconventional plot. When a horrendous accident causes Masha’s young child to die, she then finds out a war injury has taken away any hope of having another. Her only option is to make Iya (Beanpole) fall pregnant for her. This is the centre of the plot, but what goes on around it is just as interesting. A look at what women have to do to survive.
Firstly the cinematography. Normally a film with this subject material would be stark, grey and dark. I love the way colour has been added, with the use of greens and reds as conflicting colours. It almost has a similar look to Amelie and Delicatessen. The hum of a golden, blurred hue and 2 distinctive colours are used to tell a different side to each of the main characters. The director has described the colour palette as ‘rusty, the rust of life’.
Performance-wise, you couldn’t ask for any better from the two first time actors. Viktoria Miroshnichenko who plays Iya (Beanpole) and Vasilisa Perelygina who plays Masha are exceptional, and both are awards-worthy. You instantly have an affection for Iya, from the very first shot. She is ‘frozen’ in time, staring into nothing, unable to move a single muscle in her body. It’s an affliction she has been cloaked in due to PTSD. Masha is almost the complete opposite. She seems so confident, but underneath you can see there is a darkness, and this is all down to Vasilisa Perelygina. She’s remarkable. There is also Pashka, the little boy. If you watch the trailer it shows him in a hospital, playing a game with the injured soldiers. He is mesmerising. He seems to have a beautiful soul, and this shines through the screen.
I highly recommend Beanpole. It’s bleak and it’s a tough subject matter, but in my opinion, it’s essential viewing.
The RUSSIAN FILM FESTIVAL
SYDNEY: Thursday 7 – Sunday 10 November
WHERE: Event Cinemas, 505-525 George Street, Sydney
WHERE: Event Cinemas, Westfield Shopping Centre, 100 Burwood
BRISBANE: Tuesday 5 – Wednesday 13 November
WHERE: Event Cinemas Myer Centre, Level 3 Myer Centre
GOLD COAST: Saturday 9 November – Sunday 10 November
WHERE: Pacific Fair Shopping Centre, 1 Hooker Blvd, Broadbeach
MELBOURNE: Friday 8 November – Sunday 17 November
WHERE: The Capital, 113 Swanson Street, Melbourne
ADELAIDE: Thursday 14 November – Sunday 17 November
WHERE: GU House, 128 Hindley Street, Adelaide
CANBERRA: Wednesday 6 November – Sunday 10 November
WHERE: Capitol Cinemas, 6 Franklin Street, Manuka
PERTH: Friday 25 October – Wednesday 30 October
WHERE: Event Cinemas Innaloo, 57 Liege St, Innaloo