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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Father and Son
Father and Son
Wellspring // Unrated // October 26, 2004
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted November 22, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie

Long lingering stares. Deep, sensual embraces. Two beautiful, well-formed bodies clinging to each other in bed, giving each other love and comfort in the dead of night. Not exactly the imagery that immediately pops into mind when thinking about fathers and sons, is it? This certainly caused quite the controversy at Cannes in 2003 when director Aleksandr Sokurov's Father and Son (Otets i syn) was submitted for competition. Chargers were made that Sokurov's film was little more than homoerotic imagery coupled with awkward incestual overtones. Sokurov's response to critics was something of the lines of, "And what baggage are you bringing to this film?"

The film details the relationship between the Father (Andrei Shchetinin) and son Aleksei (Aleksei Nejmyshev), who share a rooftop apartment together. Aleksei's mother has died, leaving him motherless and his father a widower, and the pair remains dependent upon each other for love and comfort. Aleksei is in military school studying medicine, while his father, an army veteran, is suffering from a lung wound, presumably received in battle. Both father and son are strong, virile figures -- Dad looks to be about 40 or so, with son at 22 -- and as physical specimens are quite impressive to look at. Ostensibly, Father and Son explore a lonely duo who must learn to let go of each other in order to grow and survive. Aleksandr begins to embrace the camraderie of his peers and the youthful dalliances with the fairer sex. He is growing older, but he remains horrified of the thought of leaving the father who so desperately needs him.

Yet the film takes something of a dreamlike quality, embarking on a hazy and imagery-laden journey throughout the boundaries of paternalism, an opaque vision of love, tenderness, and abandonment that eschews conventional narrative in favor of oblique poeticism and deliberately-paced storytelling. In other words, it's short on story and real long on storytelling. The film takes it time to explore in detail the emotional landscape of the protagonists' world, and the hermetic environment in which they live echoes the narrow confines of their relationship. Their physical sparring, through wrestling or soccer, reflects the barriers that both are erecting against the tides of the inevitable. Not much happens in terms of plot and story, yet the film is dense with feeling, tone, and mood.

Father and Son rewards viewers for their patience and their willingness to release themselves in to Sokurov's vision. It doesn't hit the heights of Russian Ark, his previous film and easily a modern masterpiece, but it presents a richly compelling film.

The DVD

Video:

Father and Son  is presented in a widescreen aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and has been anamorphically-enhanced for your widescreen viewing enjoyment. The entire film is drenched in murky browns and oranges, a deliberate aesthetic scheme from Aleksandr Sokurov. The movie looks flat, lifeless, and muted, with weak contrasts and shallow blacks, but this is entirely intentional. Image detail is soft and filtered, again part of the look of the film, so it really can't be listed as a detriment. The transfer itself is only slightly problematic with some occasional noise; it's not entirely detrimental, but it is noticeable at times. Overall it's a good transfer of a film that sports a uniquely flat and murky look.

Audio:

The audio is presented in both Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 soundtracks. The 5.1 soundtrack offers up an excellent reproduction of the film's dialog (in its original Russian language with optional English subtitles.) Orchestrations sound lush and dynamic, sporting fine range and rich tones. Still, the soundtrack is mostly quiet and subdued. There isn't a lot of aggressive or immersive enveloping here, and there is minimal use of surrounds and LFE.

Extras:

A photo gallery contains several production photographs from the film. There are also trailers for both Father and Son and Russian Ark, and weblinks to sites related to the production and distribution of the film and DVD.

Final Thoughts

Not the most accessible of films, Father and Son remains a rich and compelling work. The DVD is fairly bare-boned, but the presentation is reasonable and the price is definitely attractive. Overall, this is a solid package the merits a look from all those who enjoy world cinema and are looking to experience something as visually arresting as Sokurov's languid yet stunning cinematic poetry.

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