Sunday, June 24, 2012

This Russian arthouse piece, directed by Aleksei Fedorchenko, has just arrived in London cinemas. It is short, just 77 minutes, but nonetheless inspires much for the viewer to think about and linger on.

The film opens as one of the two main characters, Aist (Igor Sergeev), buys a pair of birds, ‘buntings’. He is unsure what has drawn him to the birds, but they triggered a vague memory that eludes him. The birds, in their cage, accompany Aist on his journey throughout the rest of the film.

The film focuses on a pair of human friends, Aist and Miron (Yurly Tsurilo). Miron’s young wife, Tanya, has just died (we never find out why) and he asks his friend to accompany him on a journey that concludes with the cremation of her body and returning the ashes to the sea.

Both men tenderly wash and prepare Tanya for the journey. Rituals connect the dead woman to life, and the journey feels like an interim space, between bodily death and the final relinguishing of what remains as it is returned to the sea.

The journey involves bleak forlorn landscapes and ‘orphan’ villages. The birds’ cage sits between the men as they travel. Although the film has many long and silent takes, the men also talk, often deadpan-like, even when Miron introduces Aist to ‘Smoking’, a practice where the newly widowed shares details of his sex life with his wife.

At one point, we are reminded that ‘only love has no end’. It is unclear how happy Tanya was in her marriage to Miron (in fact, there may have been something between the dead woman and Aist), but this is not a film of cliches. The end is unexpected, though perhaps not surprising in a film that weaves a path between living and dying, a melancholic and sad place, yet perhaps not so tragic.