OzAsia Festival Review: Beanpole • Glam Adelaide

OzAsia Festival Review: Beanpole

Kantemir Balakirev’s Cannes award-winning examination of the after-math of war


Beanpole delves depressingly deeply within the world of post-war Russia, following the harrowing lives of two young women struggling to regain normality and find meaning within the trauma of a broken city.

Within the very first scene of the film, the effects of war are made obvious as protagonist Iya, whose noticeably white features and tall, slender figure have resulted in her being nicknamed ‘beanpole’, sits tightly paralysed, unable to do little more than let out haunting, feeble croaks. She suffers from post-concussion syndrome which she received fighting on the frontlines during the Siege of Leningrad. It is 1945 and World War II has devastated the city. Buildings have been demolished, families torn apart and those that managed to survive the fighting now have to physically and mentally survive their post-war lives while inhabiting a city in tatters.

But Iya is not the only one damaged from the war. She is a nursing woman at a Soviet hospice, surrounded day-by-day with those whose lives have been forever altered due to their permanent physical injuries, leaving them begging for death. Despite all the darkness around her, Iya finds light in her young child, Pasha, but even this relief from reality runs short when Iya’s condition has murderous consequences.

With the return of her best friend Masha, a demobilised fighter who frequently has spontaneous nosebleeds due to injuries she has sustained, the audience learns that Pasha was actually not Iya’s child. In her un-intentional slaying, Iya has now become indebted to the controlling Masha, a fighter now finding purpose within the world through the societal expectation of a woman being a mother.

Russian director, Kantemir Balakirev, won Best Director, Un Certain Regard, at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, with critics buzzing over the historic drama from the 27-year-old director . Balakirev’s brilliance utilises close-up shots of the actors faces to place the audience within the very centre of intimate moments of extreme uncomfortableness, emotional turmoil and unimaginable horror.

At times Beanpole can be almost too confronting, especially when it comes to Iya’s sexual suffering due to her guilt and Masha’s cold-hearted expectations, alongside suicide and the death of a child. Unfortunately, though, these horrific experiences were all part of reality post-war in Leningrad and are only a small sample of what life was like then.

The cast make the film as powerful as it is. Almost completely unknown actress, Viktoria Miroshnichenko, is utterly mesmerising as Iya, the tall, young woman with uniquely white features whose beautiful, caring innocence is constantly challenged by the harsh world around her. Alongside this lead’s performance is that of Vasilisa Perelygina as Masha, whose cold determination to find meaning within her life at the mental and physical expense of her friend is challenging to witness.

A mention must also be made of the shooting locations, sets and costumes. Throughout the entire film the audience is totally submerged in the completely foreign world of post-war Russia with its obviously poverty-stricken lives: crowded and dirty hospitals, empty, snow-filled streets, apartments in disrepair, unclean and basic clothing as well as the most basic of foods.

Beanpole, supported by powerfully emotional performances, a unique narrative and visually immersive locations, is a film not soon forgotten in the minds of its audience and is a reminder of the heart-breaking after-effects of war for those who have survived.

POWERFUL 4.5 stars

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