Russian drama explores the unwomanly face of war

Writer/director Kantemir Balagov must be a solemn young man. His “Beanpole” took home two awards at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, including for best director. When other twenty-somethings are focused on generating social media attention with an “edgy” tweet about their wardrobe, this young talent turned his attention to 1945 Leningrad. In his film, he explores the struggles of two women who attempt to restart their lives after the horrors of serving in World War II.

A disclaimer: “Beanpole” is not a film for everyone.

Aside from overcoming the “one-inch barrier” (referring to subtitles), this is a very Russian film. It’s slow, impeccably shot, and filled with an excruciating dose of angst that no amount of vodka can overcome. But the reward is in being exposed to its unique perspective. “Beanpole” is an education.

Viktoria Miroshnichenko as Iya is a towering screen presence.

The story concerns two soldiers named Iya (Viktoria Miroshnichenko) and Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina), who return from the battlefield to work in a hospital. Iya is a tall, model-like girl with a fair complexion and almost translucent hair. Her lanky figure has resulted in the nickname Beanpole. Iya’s good friend is Masha, a precocious and attractive woman, whose chief interest seems to be finding a husband (security) that can help her move on. Masha considers love a secondary concern.

The two women work in a hospital, and their patients are fellow injured soldiers. As the men in their care fight to recover, some do not want to go on. Iya is very affected by the pain and suffering around her, while Masha masks her feelings with sarcasm. But the bond the women formed in battle keeps them together, even when tragedy threatens at every turn.

Read the rest of Jonathan’s review online and in print in the Times-Herald: