Review by Sean Boelman
A harrowing and heartbreaking tale of war in an awards season crowded with them, Russian filmmaker Kantemir Balagov’s newest movie Beanpole manages to stand out among them. With an absolutely soul-crushing story (and a phenomenal sense of visual style to boot), Balagov’s film is one that will haunt viewers for quite a while.
The movie follows two young women in post-WWII Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) as they struggle to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of the war. Very few films have addressed the impact and consequences of war as successfully as this one, largely because Balagov and co-writer Aleksandr Terekhov approach it in a way that focuses almost exclusively on the feelings of trauma felt by the victims.
Also impressive about the movie is that it is told from a perspective that is far too often ignored in relation to the war. In Russia during WWII, women would serve as soldiers, and upon returning home, struggled to re-conform to the restrictive ideals of patriarchal society. There is a lot of unexplored history to be found in this side of the war, and the script does an excellent job of bringing this to light.
Additionally, Balagov and Terekhov infuse the character with so much humanity that the emotion of the film becomes undeniable. By creating an unmistakable sense of dread, Balagov allows his commentary on the brutality and unfairness of war, especially on the people who are forced to conduct it, to land in an even more affecting way.
The two lead actresses of the movie, Viktoria Miroshnichenko and Vasilisa Perelygina, have tremendous chemistry together, and this is made even more impressive by the fact that both of them are first-time actresses. Complementing the natural emotion of the script with performances that are vulnerable and believable, Miroschnichenko and Perelygina have a great career ahead of them if they choose to go down that path.
Balagov’s film is also extremely impressive on a technical level. The cinematography and use of color are phenomenal, immersing the viewer in this world of post-WWII Russia (for better or worse). Particularly effective is Balagov’s use of long takes, causing the scene to simmer and a sense of discomfort to brew within the viewer.
That said, the movie does have a few issues with pacing. In its committed attempt to show an honest portrayal of trauma, the film does have some portions that will lose the interest of viewers. Ultimately, the disorienting shifts between stagnation and intensity seem entirely purposeful, but these decisions don’t always pay off.
For the most part, Beanpole is a meaningful discussion of the human consequences of war. Thanks to a talented filmmaker at the helm and an emotion-filled script, this joins the list of underappreciated international movies that deserved more awards attention than they got.
Beanpole is now playing in theaters.