Russian Directors know the Golden Formula By Cigdem Kömürcüoglu
The Russian cinematographers are very able in getting performances from child actors that cast a spell on audiences. I believe this really is a very hard thing to accomplish because with child actors’ performances, it is very easy to fall into melodrama or exaggeration, the examples of which we see in films everywhere.
But the Russian directors, like magicians, have the golden formula. In recent years, The Return (Vozvrashcheniye, 2003) was a very good example of this. It told the story of the conflicting feelings of two brothers towards their run-away father who suddenly resurfaces. The film and the two very young actors who played brothers achieved great acclaim and won international awards.
I witnessed the same golden trait in The Italian (Italianetz 2005) directed by Andrei Kravchuk. The film is a coming of age story of Vanya and of his travels to find out his roots.
Vanya, very impressively played by Kolya Spiridonov, is a six year old boy living in an orphanage somewhere in the vast Russian countryside. He is about to be adopted by a well-off, caring Italian couple. He is the envy of all the children in the orphanage because this is the only way for them to escape the poverty, criminal life and prison that awaits them in the future. But Vanya has real doubts about going to this sunny, rich foreign country every one is talking about. He wants to solve the great mystery which is troubling his mind: Was he found somewhere or was he left by his mother? Instead of making the smart choice, he listens to his heart. He runs away and embarks on a search for his true mother. But this is a very dangerous path with all the people at his back trying to catch him to sell outside.
To begin with, the film has a strong script. It is not only telling, in an impressive and aesthetical way, the personal story of Vanya but it goes behind and deals with bigger issues of our day. It draws a very effective picture of contemporary Russia with its poverty, corruption, criminality and mafia penetrating all the layers of the social and economical structure. There is a bloodcurdling scene in which Vanya and his friend are talking in bed with bitter realism about organised mafia, something which may be waiting for them in foreign countries.
Even though The Italian is his first film, Kolya Spiridonov is great. He is very able in conveying Vanya’s feelings, his agony, his constraints, his doubts, his longing and plight to find out who he really is. In fact, all the other actors both young and old are convincing and make us believe in the story.
The Italian is a human story told with sensibility and a mature cinematic style taking its roots from the great tradition of Russian film making. The film is conveyed with deep Russian sensibility, the excellent examples of which we have witnessed in the rich Russian art. It has a sense of atmosphere, depicting the orphanage and Russian countryside with all its colours and interesting details. It is a real gem.