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  Publicity Stills of "The Italian"
(Courtesy from Archer Entertainment APPL)

Official Russian entry for Best Foreign Language Film for 2006 Academy Awards
WINNER: Grand Prix -Best Feature at the 2005 Berlin International Children’s Film Festival

Official Selection 2006 Telluride Film Festival
Official Selection 2006 Toronto International Film Festival

In Russian with English Subtitles
Director: Andrei Kravchuk
Cast: Kolya Spiridonov, Maria Kuznetsova, Darya Lesnikova, Yuri Itskov, Nikolai Reutov, Tatiana Zakharova , Irina Osnovina , Elena Malinovskaya , Andrei Dezhonov, Vladimir Kosmidailo, Anatoly Agroskin
RunTime: 1 hr 39 mins
Released By: Archer Entertainment APPL & The Picturehouse
Rating: PG
Official Website: www.archerentasia.com/theitalian

Opening Day: 4 October (exclusive: The Picturehouse)


In his feature directorial debut, director Andrei Kravchuk addresses with intelligence and poignancy the urgent issue of illegal adoption in Russia, which has become a well-documented international crisis. THE ITALIAN is based on the true story of a small Russian boy abandoned in an orphanage who goes in search of his birth mother.

A childless, affluent couple from Italy comes to a provincial Russian children’s home to find a child for adoption. The orphanage is a harsh place, run by two rival internal factions. Alongside the official, adult administration, run by a corrupt headmaster (played by Yuri Itskov) with the help of greedy adoption broker Madam (Maria Kuznetsova), there is a shadow children’s gang operating out of the institution’s boiler room.

When the Italian couple singles out six-year-old ragamuffin Vanya Solntsev (Kolya Spiridonov) as their prospective choice, the other orphans give Vanya a new nickname: The Italian. They envy Vanya, imagining that he is destined for a life of ease in sunny Italy. But seeing that the older children must resort to stealing or prostitution in order to survive, plucky little Vanya has other plans. He decides to track down his birth mother, teaching himself to read in order to learn her address from his personal file locked in the home’s office. After stealing his records, Vanya sneaks out of the orphanage and boards a commuter train headed for the city, with the orphanage staff and police in close pursuit. Fearing that Vanya will make them lose a very lucrative adoption deal, the orphanage headmaster joins forces with Madam to find the runaway child by any means necessary.

Movie Review:

In 6 year-old Vanya’s (Kolya Spiridonov) Russia, children are considered lucky just to know the names of their parents. As the intrepid runaway in Andrei Kravchuk's bittersweet drama “The Italian”, Vanya marches to the beat of his own brass band. The death of a young mother looking for a son she abandoned years ago at Vanya’s dilapidated orphan-emporium is the catalyst for a road trip on his lonesome to look for a mother he’s never known. Director Kravchuk consciously weaves urgent post-Soviet rhetoric and themes of individual identity owing to Ann Holm’s WWII novella, “I Am David”, into a watered down borsch of dramatic and emotional compromise. The film is both comic and tragic, and in a consistently plaintive world of insights and allusions that considers the very serious proposition of child trafficking and Russia’s underclass.

Eluding both the spiritual richness of “I Am David” and the childlike perspectives of “Viva Cuba”, Kravchuk gazes upon his subject with a measure of detached sensitivity and depressive realism that never coddles its precocious and cherubic lead, avoiding the ingratiating manner of a Roberto Benigni film. But it also never truly invests much in him by way of personal danger and coats his eventual struggle with an almost divine sense of security. By engaging in a subject matter as heinous as the economy of young lives and then bogging it down with familiar levity, it never acknowledges the film for what it is and perhaps what it could have been.

Vanya’s nondescript background becomes a synthesis of the disturbingly harsh portrait of ingrained subsistence that Vanya and his cadre of car washers, thieves, prostitutes and various other guttersnipes who live and work; pulling their earnings into a coffer for the good of their collective and keeping the spirit of socialism alive. They situate themselves in and around the commune surrounding the orphanage run by the pragmatic and cynical Madam (Maria Kuznetsova) and the effete but sympathetic louse of a headmaster (Yuri Itskov). Intriguingly, the final half of the film – as its inevitable road trip begins – segues Vanya as an affront to the fatalism that infects the rest of Russia’s vastly underprivileged youth as he proves himself to be more resilient and self-sufficient.

Kravchuk find a way to the heart en route to the mind. He envelops an air of protective affection for his characters, including those who hinder our enterprising young hero’s quest for maternal solicitude, an instinct made memorable by the film’s assertion that a nurturing Russia can be cultivated by putting the onus of that responsibility on the country’s women. For all its discursiveness, its final shot obliterates the acquired bleakness and severity of the film and leaves us in its afterglow of hope and grace.

Movie Rating:

((Reductive in its more urgent subject matter but Vanya’s journey is richly compassionate and disarmingly hopeful)

Review by Justin Deimen

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