The island is located somewhere in Russia’s icy White Sea, though it may as well be a hamlet of Mordor, a backdrop for a study of spiritual crisis that is as predictable as the film’s monochromatic color palette. The prologue, set in 1942, precariously borders on kitsch, with young, sniveling Anatoly (Timofei Tribuntzev) accidentally shooting his superior, Tikhon (Aleksei Zelenski), at the behest of Nazis that look as if they’ve walked off the set of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. When his boat goes kablooey, Anatoly washes ashore on a nearby island, where he builds a cult as a monk with uncanny powers of healing and foresight. It’s now 1976, and the older Anatoly (Pyotr Mamonov) spends much time traversing the gorgeously dour landscape, asking the Lord Jesus to blot out his transgressions, and if it weren’t for some telling flashes of humor, this show of middlebrow miserablism would be completely intolerable. Anatoly’s faith feels inauthentic but his sense of remorse is not, and his interactions with the people who come to him for help give the film added dimension. He advises with equal amounts of sanctimony and humor, suggesting both a conflicted relationship with God but also a need to grapple with boredom. When he tells a widow that her husband is still alive and that she should slaughter her pig, sell her farm, and move to France to find him, there is a sense that he recognizes his own struggle in hers and that he is lying to her in the interest of ushering her past an epic-length ritual of mourning. Does this mean he resents his service to God? After exorcising a demon from a young woman, a person from Anatoly’s past appears, and though the stage seems set for an examination of the man’s regret for having wasted his life, director Pavel Lungin has long blown his load on the chilly vistas of the White Sea to care much, and so Anatoly’s crisis never feels resolved, simply dissolving into the gauzy ether of the film’s Orthodox pageantry.
- Film Movement
- 110 min
- Pavel Lungin
- Dmitri Sobolev
- Pyotr Mamonov, Viktor Sukhorukov, Dmitry Dyuzhev, Yuri Kuznetzov, Viktoria Isakova, Nina Usatova, Yana Esipovich, Olga Demidova, Timofei Tribuntzev, Aleksei Zelenski
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