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film review

Viktoria Miroschnichenko and Vasilisa Perelygina star in Kantemir Balagov's Beanpole.Liana Mukhamedzyanova/Courtesy of TIFF

  • Beanpole
  • Directed by Kantemir Balagov
  • Written by Kantemir Balagov and Aleksandr Terekhov
  • Starring Viktoria Miroschnichenko and Vasilisa Perelygina
  • Classification 18A; 130 minutes


3.5 out of 4 stars

It was either the sign of film festival fatigue or the sometimes unexpected obstacle that came with encountering a sincerely challenging piece of art – or both – that I left my screening of Beanpole this past TIFF with a knot in my stomach and a fog in my skull. It was a struggle I carried with me throughout the festival, and the year, and the long winter that has followed. Which must mean the film did something, in fact a lot of things, right.

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Kantemir Balagov’s second directorial effort – don’t look up how old he is; it will only make you feel terrible – is loosely adapted from Svetlana Alexievich’s The Unwomanly Face of War, and follows two severely traumatized women in 1945 Leningrad. Iya (Viktoria Miroshnichenko) is a kind but awkward nurse prone to seizing up, while the charismatic Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina) has returned from fighting on the front lines to news that’s beyond horrific. Both women attempt to rebuild their lives by relying on each other, though in very different fashions and with results that will simultaneously compel and repel audiences.

At just 28 years old (oops, there’s his age; sorry) Balagov displays the cinematic skills of an auteur at least twice his life experience, and both lead actresses are captivating – an especially remarkable feat given that neither had acted onscreen before. Originally, I felt that as Balagov peeled back the layers of Iya and Masha’s stories, Beanpole felt less like a deep cut and more like a scratch. But it was a scratch that lingered far longer than I anticipated. I originally wanted the film to devastate me, to kill me with emotion and character, and was unreasonably annoyed that I initially walked away only wounded. Little did I know that I would be witness to a slow death – a beautiful kind of agony.

Beanpole opens Feb. 28 at the TIFF Lightbox in Toronto (