Beanpole is a tough film to watch. It’s powerful, deeply moving, cruel and ferocious, but definitely worth your time. Filmmaker Kantemir Balagov is a brilliant young director who made a bold decision to cast unknown, first-time actresses in extremely demanding roles. His daring choices paid off. Viktoria Miroshnichenko and Vasilisa Perelygina elevate this Cannes-winning Russian psychodrama to an Oscar-worthy contender. Their impressive performances are complemented by a strong supporting cast that includes Konstantin Balakirev, Andrey Bykov, Olga Dragunova, Timofey Glazkov, Kseniya Kutepova and Igor Shirokov.
In his second feature film, a period drama, Balagov examines the pernicious, co-dependency between Iya (Miroshnichenko) and Masha (Perelygina) whose lives have been profoundly altered by their harrowing experiences on the front lines of WWII. These young female survivors struggle to rebuild their shattered lives and reintegrate into an impoverished, shell-shocked, post-war Leningrad where food is scarce and the city is only now beginning to recover from a siege that left more than one million civilians dead.
Directing from a screenplay co-written with Aleksandr Terekhov, Balagov expertly mines the often unpredictable, sometimes incomprehensible emotional beats of each scene with subtle, painful precision to reveal the trauma and alienation felt by his characters. Editor Igor Litoninskiy skillfully weaves them into some of the film’s most profound moments. The narrative unfolds slowly to reveal all the darkly nuanced facets of a complex, destructive relationship motivated by love, the need for human connection, the desire to control, and a strong instinct for survival. Iya and Masha face daunting challenges in their search for a better, brighter future in this war-ravaged hellscape.
The extraordinary cast never disappoints. The production values are outstanding, including breathtaking production design by Sergey Ivanov, gorgeous cinematography by Kseniya Sereda, and authentic period costume design by Olga Smirnova. The rich, warm palette of deep greens, golds and cranberry is dazzling and captures eloquently the dilapidated, moldering former elegance and style of a grand old city and an era that has been devastated by years of war. This is Russian cinema at its very best and it’s an absolute must-see.