A Persistence Of Life In The Traumatic Wake Of War (Review: BEANPOLE)
Director Kantemir Balagov sends an arrow straight through the center of the heart with his most recent film, an uncomfortable and heartbreaking story called BEANPOLE.
The film follows two women: Iya (Viktoria Miroshnichenko) and Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina). Both have fought in the war as anti-aircraft gunners, but Iya, nicknamed Beanpole for her gangly height, was demobilized when an injury gave her post-concussion syndrome, causing her to sometimes freeze on the spot, unable to move or speak until the episode passes. Masha continued fighting in the war, sending her son, Pashka to live with Iya while she worked as a hospital nurse. The story picks up just as Masha is coming home from the war.
The film plunges you straight into post-war trauma, with painful plot point after plot point further deepening the scars that these characters carry in their struggle to return to a sense of normalcy. When Masha's son dies from an accident concerning Iya's condition, Masha blackmails her into having a baby for her. What sounds like a fairly straightforward plot becomes much more complex as we dig into the two women's past, and begin to understand the desolation of their future. For Masha, her loss and desperation to regain the life she wants motivates her, and for Iya, the main motivator is guilt and fear of losing what she already has.
There are some alarming and disturbing moments in the film, including a traumatic sex scene that holds a lot of shame and hurt in it (a supporting role from Nikolay Ivanovich as the doctor just adds to the emotional turmoil of the situation). Every scene brings a new form of horror upon these characters, and it is an understatement to call the film bleak. Balagov's beautiful use of color transforms the film, adding even more depth and texture to scenes that already had plenty of life - in such a dull, drab setting, the color green persistently seeps through, showing a persistence of life even in the traumatic wake of war.
BEANPOLE is not a film to watch when you need a pick-me-up, but it is for sure a heartrending, unsettling take on the human condition, and a recommendation that I do not hesitate to make.