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Remember when we all went to movies and we liked Parasite an awful lot, and it received tons of awards, starting with the 2019 Cannes Film Festival? I don't blame you, it was a thousand years ago. But amongst the films at Cannes last year was Beanpole, a sleepy film made in Russia that screened as a "Un Certain Regard" portion of the festival, and its director won an award for it to boot.
Written and directed by Kantemir Balagov, the film is centered in 1945 Leningrad. Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina) and Iya (Viktoria Miroshnichenko) have returned from their tours of duty as aircraft gunners, and Iya works at the local hospital where veterans are left to piece together or in large part, do away with the remnants of their lives. Iya wants to try and have a child but is no longer able to do so, so she convinces Iya to sleep with an aging doctor at the hospital with the hopes of giving her a child.
It is impressive to me just how much of Beanpole commands your attention; Miroshnichenko could be confused for Game of Thrones co-star Gwendoline Christie, but where Christie's has strength, Iya has an innocence and faith to her actions and work with people that comes across so plainly. Masha's conniving is also abundant onscreen, and Perelygina's performance is up to the task of her co-star. The relationship that they share is up there amongst any other performances that one could see this year.
Along with the work of the two stars, the story has a confidence that draws the viewer in, regardless of who is telling it. This is because the stars put themselves in the role, just as the older military doctor Nikolay (Andrey Bykov) does, along with Masha's boyfriend Sasha (Igor Birikov). The performances are authentic and heartfelt, and everywhere you go in Beanpole, you find yourself seeing at least one or two things identifiable in every significant speaking role. You sense that the ensemble is putting their all into their work, and that is part of why Beanpole works, just as there is in Balagov's direction.
Having a cursory idea of what Beanpole was based on the praise it received and not knowing what to expect, I found a film whose emotional weight and number of surprising and impressive performances that not too many American-based directors could get away with on a given day. I imagine Beanpole could get "reimagined" by such crowds but hope not, because the work done by everyone here is a revelation.The Blu-ray:
Kino gives Beanpole an AVC encoded 1.85:1 high-definition presentation, with things looking fine. There is not too much image detail, but colors are vivid, with outdoor scenes showing off the Russian winters and getting a sense of how hard they may be. The hospitals also look the part too; dimly lit (and reproduced that way), with darker moments appearing natural and little crushing or artifacts. Altogether nice work from Kino on the disc.The Audio:
DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless in Russian for your enjoyment, and the film does not get a lot of sonic work to do from the source material. Environmental sounds in the hospital echo discretely in the front and back channels from time to time, crowd noise in a third act car crash are effective, and dialogue is consistent and well-balanced throughout. Could not ask for much more, honestly.Extras:
Save for the trailer (1:02), there is a interview with Balagov where he talks about his inspiration for the story and film, story themes, what he thinks the takeaways are, that kind of thing.Final Thoughts:
Beanpole gives audiences a fascinating story, told in excruciating and emotional detail by two wonderful performers, helped by a loyal supporting cast. If those do not comprise the formula of an effective and recommended film, I do not know what does these days. Technically the film looks and sounds excellent, though could have used a bump up in the extra material department. Definitely worth checking out if one is looking for a good movie to watch these days.