<em>Beanpole</em>: the titular character towers above the rest, but the movie is far from the best.
If you thought Russian interference with the last election was reprehensible, wait until you see what Putin’s putas are doing to the movies. When was the last time a picture scraped the humor right out of you, as if the filmmakers had used your eyes as popsicle sticks with which to aggressively exfoliate the spikes of their golf shoes? Unless that sounds even remotely appealing, I suggest that you stay as far away as possible from Beanpole, a film so depressingly on point it makes Cries and Whispers look like Blazing Saddles.
What sweats when frozen? Iya Sergueeva (Viktoria Miroshnichenko), a young soldier demobilized from combat status during World War II and currently acting as a nurse tending to the wounded. Iya is Greek for violet, but don’t expect the shrinking variety. Her exceptional height earned her the titular appellation. Iya’s “freezing” is a traumatic extension of combat, a regular occurrence in her day-to-day life that co-workers no longer react to.
Since returning from combat, Iya has successfully passed little Pashka (Timofey Glazkov) off as her child. The adorable tyke is as small as his “mother” is tall. (Fearing the worst, I mentally lightened the load by comparing the little boy in knee-boots to Tim Conway’s Dorf.) One scene later, all signs of hope perished with Pashka: Iya faded out while playing with the boy, the weight of her body causing him to suffocate.
Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina) and Iya fought together. When her husband is killed in battle, Masha, looking to avenge his death (and ensure Pashka’s safety), sends the babe home with Iya to act as his mother. Upon Masha’s return, Iya is incapable of admitting the truth. It’s Masha who raises the question of Pashka’s mortality. Accepting the news with cauterized regret, Masha suggests that Iya join her for a night of carousing that will hopefully end with the creation of another child for she and Iya to co-parent. A shard of shrapnel led to Masha’s infertility, so it’s up to Iya to play surrogate mother. After all, the skyscraping Pashka-crusher owes Masha! And who better for Masha to blackmail into the role of sperm donor than Dr. Nikolay Ivanovich (Andrey Bykov), the kindly hospital sawbones who longs for an end to the war if for other reason than a return to his practice performing simple hernia operations. Masha insists that she remain in bed during the impregnation — a scene of tremendous unpleasantness, and one that we saw coming.
Some have lauded filmmaker Kantemir Balagov for his use of color, particularly his bold stains of green. But unlike Kermit the Frog, when shades of spinach dominate the floor, the walls, clothing, and skin, it’s easy being green, and the overplay becomes abuse. Even the lighting is oppressive. It’s one thing to bathe many interior scenes with the same incandescent hues of pre-fluorescent lighting prominent in post-war Leningrad. But must the same overpowering golden shades dominate a mid-day street scene? Or was cinematographer Kseniya Sereda maybe on a vitamin drip during filming?
For over half the picture, two questions ran through my head: what lessons are there to be learned here? That war is not healthy for children and other living things-z-z-z? And who in hell would want to devote over two hours of their life to atrocities served up with such a heavy hand? (Balagov should be given the Clockwork Orange treatment with Pasolini’s Salo.) There’s even an assisted suicide, so if you miss it during its week at Landmark you can catch its second run when Faye Girsh books it for the Hemlock Society. Things might have been different if for one moment I had been made to care about these characters and been drawn into their situation. As exercises in inhumanity to make a foregone point go, I sleep no better knowing that I’ve been beanpoled.