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(Russia). Iya returned home early from the war (World War 2) to Leningrad, having suffered some kind of concussion that results in her lapsing into occasional catatonic states. She is working for a hospital treating war casualties and trying to care for her son. Her best friend Masha returns later, and the film takes up the story of both women, as different as night and day, trying to survive in post-war Leningrad. There is one scene early on that is heartbreaking, and Iya’s reaction to it defines their worlds.  The film is as psychologically intense as it is tragic. Iya’s guilt leaves her at the whims of Masha who devises her own plan to find happiness for herself in Leningrad. The camera work is amazing; may of the scenes, infused with red and green hues, look like paintings. It is not often that one is captivated from the first moment of a film, almost holding one’s breath and afraid to breathe and miss something; this is one of those kinds of movies. I understand that the two actresses are first-timers, and both of them deliver searing performances. Big thumbs up for a film that is bleak but is a work of pure artistry. It was well deserving of its Un Certain Regard award by the International Federation of Film Critics at Cannes last year. (2020; 4.5 Stars)

About Gary Burkholder

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