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Otets i syn (2003)

Father and Son, Vater und Sohn, Père et Fils, Padre e Figlio

Directed by:

Alexander Sokurov

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 80 minutes

US Certificate: Unrated UK Certificate: U

On DVD

This is an interesting period of transition for the politics of the Russian family, as today's adolescents, representing the country's future, all belong to a post-Glasnost generation, while their parents all grew up under the former Soviet Union. So it is perhaps unsurprising that 2003 saw the release of three different Russian films examining sons who come of age in the shadow of their fathers – Andrei Zvyagintsev's 'The Return', Boris Khlebnikov's and Alexei Popogrebsky's 'Koktebel', and Alexander Sokurov's 'Father and Son'. Sokurov's film is the second, following 'Mother and Son' (1996), of a projected 'family' trilogy, and shows the kind of lyrical obliquity for which the director of 'Russian Ark' has become renowned.

'Father and Son' begins with the sounds of breathing and panting, and close-ups of naked limbs intertwined and a mouth opening to gasp. These, it turns out, are not sexual grapplings, but a half-asleep Alexei (Aleksey Neymyshev) being cradled by his father (Andrey Shchetinin) who comforts him through a bad dream – yet the unmistakable eroticism of these images is not out of place, for Alexei, whose mother died when he was a little boy, shares an unusually intimate relationship with his father, who is to the teenager also mother, brother, friend, flatmate, protector, confidante, hero, playmate and sharer of dreams. So tight is their bond that Alexei's girlfriend (Marina Zasukhina), unable to compete for his attention, leaves him – and this, as well as the weekend visit of Fedor (Fedor Lavrov), investigating the mysterious disappearance of his own estranged father, causes Alexei to realise that he must eventually find his own path and move on, leaving his father behind.

Unfolding over a single weekend, 'Father and Son' is akin to an elliptical poem – its economy and simplicity concealing a profound human mystery. Instead of any conventional narrative, there is a string of episodes whose details accumulate to create a portrait of the father-son relationship, not only as a particularised reality for Alexei, but also as a religious and mythic archetype. Cinematographer Alexander Burov's imagery is starkly beautiful, and the intense performances by the non-professional leads effortlessly navigate a course from raw machismo to a more vulnerable tenderness.

There are many films about a young man's rites of passage, but few are so compactly contemplative, so delicately subdued and so achingly sombre as 'Father and Son' – and its final sequence is as haunting an evocation of solitude and death as you are ever likely to see.

It's Got: Intense performances veering from machismo to tenderness; beautiful cinematography; a haunting conclusion.

It Needs: Close attention from the viewer to its many nuances - and lets just say this should be avoided by anyone looking for Hollywood blockbuster fare.

DVD Extras Scene selection; Russian language with optional English subtitles; theatrical trailer; filmographies/biographies of director Alexander Sokurov, screenwriter Sergey Potepalov, director of photography Alexander Burov; A Soldiers Dream (10min), a short film by Sokurov from 1995 which tests the patience with its near-static images of three soldiers sleeping, and the vaguely kitschy painted image that forms its dreamy climax. DVD Extras Rating: 3/10

Alternatives:

Koktebel, Mother and Son, The Return

Summary

An intimate and mysterious rite of passage from Russia's greatest living director.