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Customer Review

VINE VOICEon 25 May 2008
This Russian film from 2005 marks Andrei Kravchuk's debut as a director. It presents a powerful and poignant portrayal of modern-day existence in post-Communist provincial Russia.

6-year old Vanya, played to perfection by Kolya Spiridonov, lives in a squalid, run-down orphanage. Adoption by affluent western couples offers the youngsters their only hope of avoiding the prospect of growing up into a life of poverty, petty crime and prostitution--as evidenced by an older generation of children who occupy the orphanage's boiler room and effectively run the place while the director drinks away the cash that comes his way from the steady sale of his charges. The largest proportion of the large adoption fees goes, of course, to the greedy and powerful adoption agent, "Madam", who uses the orphanage entirely for her own gain. Vanya appears to be fortunate when he is selected for adoption by an Italian couple; until he is brought to the realisation that once in Italy, with a new name, he will be lost forever to his real mother, if she is still alive and should she ever come looking for him. Vanya's niggling doubts threaten the established order of things and so everyone, including the gang (or is that family?) of older children who missed out on his opportunity (as they see it), do their utmost to make him accept adoption as by far his best chance in life as well as the best for everyone else. Vanya remains unconvinced.

This bleak but at times uplifting film features an almost colourless world and it is some time before one realises that is not, in fact, shot in black and white at all but rather depicts a reality that is itself almost entirely devoid of colour. The soft soundtrack score is just right also, adding to the overall mood in a gentle and understated way which, like the rest of the film, works a slow magic on the viewer. The story-line is well-paced and engrossing and all of the main characters are well fleshed-out too; even the toughest of them are (almost) all shown to have at least some human side which makes them all the more believable. The acting is never less than superb throughout. The only drawback that I found is that the dialogue is so rapid that one's attention is often perforce divided between visuals and subtitles to a greater extent than is really comfortable.

This production shows that there is still much human decency to be found amongst the ordinary peoples of modern-day Russia, despite the impoverished conditions in which they live and the copious layers of corruption under which so much of their officialdom (or what substitutes for it) operates. The film is no easy ride by any means but nevertheless is one I recommended you try. It provides a refreshing change from what so often masquerades as "human interest drama" these days.
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