Movie Review: Beanpole
Initial release date June 20th, 2019
Directed by Kantemir Balagov
One of the greatest benefits of being a subscriber to the online streaming service, Mubi, is being able to watch movies that I would have otherwise - unfortunately - never heard of. From Parisian romps during the early days of the French ”Nouvelle Vague,” to independent titles from Korea that came out years prior to the release of the masterfully directed Parasite; making me question why only after (deservedly) winning certain western accolades are we only now paying attention to movies from that region. Films that may not sit well amongst the masses due to their subject matter, or ones that unfortunately didn’t have the budget for marketing and so were relegated to being mere festival darlings. And even those that were lost in time due to a country’s government banning them from local theatres due to their “obscenities.”
If it weren’t for Mubi I would have not been able to watch Beanpole. Directed by Kantemir Balagov and released in 2019, this film focuses on two women in war-torn Leningrad shortly after the conclusion of World War II. Iya is a nurse suffering from PTSD who works alongside Dr. Nikolay, and her friend Masha is a returning Soviet Air Force combatant. After a tragic event in the films early minutes, we follow the complicated relationship between these two women as they attempt to find some semblance of happiness and meaning amidst their dreary, desolate surroundings.
What is apparent from the films onset is the use of silence. Actor’s take their time with each of their lines, of which they are given few. The camera often refuses to stray away from long, stagnant wide shots. And the pace between scenes often feels suffocatingly slow. But never did I find myself thinking that any moment, any beat, any silence between two actor’s were unnecessary. On the contrary I found these moments to be unnerving, if anything. Which is a word that I feel appropriately encapsulates this film. There was not a moment during the two and a half hour runtime where I felt “happy.” Though, with my experiences with Russian art, I would be a fool to expect such an emotion. However, even with the absence of joy, I never found any moment of the film to be lurid, or repulsive for the sake of being so. Understand that there are definitely scenes (one in particular) that explore the disgusting depths of our being; but the way the film is shot, edited with minimal cuts, sound designed without the use of overwhelming music, and acted with such power through resistance, results in a viewing experience that is disturbing, sure, but incredibly honest, and vividly raw. Especially with the experiences of women, who’s stories and histories we often forget when thinking of these moments in time.
Though I, perhaps, would have liked to see further exploration of the setting and time-period, and how it affected these characters; this was still a haunting experience, one of which I’m sure will leave a lasting impression.