Monday, February 10, 2020


Kantemir Balagov’s Beanpole, currently completing a run at Film Forumtakes place in post-war Leningrad and many of the characters in the movie have the burned out listless looks of PTSD victims. The movie is set in a hospital where the patients literally are the living dead. One pleads to be put out of his misery saying he’s “not a person anymore.” The title character Iya (Viktoria Miroshnicenko) is a nurse, who had served on the front and now emits strange haunting noises which signal an imminent break from reality. Rail thin and tall, with the otherworldly coloration of an albino, she’s plainly been out of place her whole life. The symbolism of the morphology is obvious in one sense, but can give one pause. Disconnection is rife everywhere. There’s almost no need to underscore a physical attribute to make the point; there are some other contrivances in the narrative (related to implausible coincidence) which can be disconcerting. But the film creates a complex topography both predicated on the existential condition of war and on a kind of incestuous emptiness that takes on a life of its own. There’s a Masha character (Vasilisa Perelygina) and a tortured doctor (Andrey Bykov) that are unavoidable Chekhov citations. Only here you’re dealing with a totally different set of longings that are both more profound and desperate than those found in The Three Sisters. “I want a human inside me,” Masha says at one point. Is it sex or a child? The ambivalence is undeniable and chilling, particularly because the doctor will later inform her “there’s nothing left inside you to make life.” Iya will reiterate the same idea when she says “I’m meaningless; there’s nobody inside me.” At the same time, life is randomly taken, as in a horrifying and unforgetable sequence when a three year old is suffocated. The effect of the movie is not simple to define. The conditions of war have created devastation, but the psychic legacy that Beanpole describes is neither that of desire or need. Recounts of relationships in the camps are really the only comparison. The brilliance of the film lies in portraying a psychic landscape of survival, in which attachments are practically devoid of the kind of emotion viewers are likely to identify with love.

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