Nikola Jović’s Review on “In Limbo”

In Limbo (2021), dir. Aleksandr Khant

Discipline the punished: Aleksandr Khant delivers spellbindingly-sardonic millennial take on the getaway genre.

“I vow to become a drunk, I vow to be a pain, never cook for you… always complain.” Our young protagonists’ journey to freedom crystallises, in a wistful and chilling scene set on an icy mountain where they marry each other in a touching and symbolic way. Their struggle to abandon the limbo-state of their everyday life will avalanche into a snowball of consequences threatening to cut their freedom short. In his second feature, director Aleksandr Hant explores a perplexed millennial experience in the face of the empty gestures and aimlessness of our contemporary society, while in the end leaving us perplexed as well.

Sasha (Jenia Vinogradova) is a cheeky and mischievous 15-year-old, trying to regain the freedoms of expression she lost once her mother (Olga Sakhanova) got remarried to police detective Viktor (Konstantin Gatsalov), who imposed patriarchal values onto her. During a party, she hits on her shy classmate Dany (Igor Ivanov) with the intention of sleeping with him. But once they get caught, Viktor establishes yet another boundary: isolating her completely. She is about to be homeschooled from her bedroom, decorated in scorching, rebellious art, never to see any of her friends again, Sasha convinces her mother to let her go to school one last time. She gets there, only to be humiliated and she and Dany decide that they’re not satisfied with the aimlessness of their lives. Despite judgmental looks, they are leaving everything behind in order to break societal boundaries and live a life worth living.  But if they’re both clueless, what will the guiding principle of their rebellion be?

Hant isn’t only interested in treating us to the unmotivated splashes of violence, that are common in the getaway genre. Instead of detachment, the writer/director invites us to identify with the main couple. As Dany and Sasha are wandering about, filming a black-and-white documentary, all their elders seem to either be just as lost as they are or happy and content with the modesty of working-class life. By relying on the music video aesthetic, the style of the film leaves an energetically youthful impression, while carefully sprinkling those authentic down-to-earth tones we’re used to seeing from social dramas. The difference between the looming of bars over Sasha’s bedroom and the flowery sheets and walls over at Dany’s underlines their difference in (un)expressiveness. The whole movie has a film grain added to the digital image, making the point about ‘in-limbo’ identity resonate more. Add to it delightfully-childish chemistry between two main leads and you’ve got yourself a film that will leave you in stitches, make your heart race and pull your emotional strings. But, isn’t that the problem?

From Breathless to Badlands, you would always get cold-shower reminders that you should be careful when identifying with these characters, and while that shower is coming, most of Sasha and Dany’s mischief is either framed as cheeky rebellion or a bad misstep. Even if it would have us feeling that there is no turning back, very soon we would be reassured. Also, as a film whose whole thematic premise is about fighting for your agency, taking away that agency in key moments, to a certain extent betrays this theme.

In Limbo is a film that does not judge, but humanises all its characters, leaving you both somber and re-energised as it’s wrapping up, living up to its name: by leaving you in limbo.

Nikola Jović
Edited by Amber Wilkinson