Director: Alexander Kott
Cast: Elena An, Danila Rassomakhin, Karim Pakachakov, Narinman Bekbulatov-Areshev
Best music Aleksey AIGY , Annual award of the Guild of Historians of Cinema and Film Critics, Moscow (Russia), 2015 Annual award of the Guild of Historians of Cinema and Film Critics, Moscow (Russia), 2015 First prize Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr, Sochi (Russia), 2014 Best Cinematography Levan KAPANADZE , Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr, Sochi (Russia), 2014 Guild of Historians of Cinema and Film Critics Prize Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr, Sochi (Russia), 2014 Guild of Historians of Cinema and Film Critics Diploma Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr, Sochi (Russia), 2014 Special Prize Middle East International Film Festival : MEIFF, Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates), 2014 Special mention Honfleur Russian Film Festival, Honfleur (France), 2014 First prize International Human Rights Film Festival, Moscow (Russia), 2014
Young hearts go nuclear in Alexander Kott's mannered but quietly affecting Test (Ispytanie), set in an utterly remote corner of the USSR at the dawn of the H-bomb age. Elevated by a luminous performance from newcomer Elena An and Levan Kapanadze's crisply poetic cinematography, this wordless, subtle fable of teenage passions has made an explosive start to its festival career and appeals as an accessibly exotic Russian export. Adventurous distributors in receptive territories will be keen to check it out, although the lack of dialogue may be as much of a hindrance as a help.
Picking up the top prize when premiering at Sochi's Kinotavr in June, the functionally-titled Test was named Best International Feature at Turkey's Golden Orange festival in Antalya four months later. Writer-director Kott, with more than half a dozen features under his belt since debuting in 2001, previously best known for wartime epic Fortress of War (2010), a.k.a. The Brest Fortress, set during the start of the Nazis' Operation Barbarossa in 1941.
Test takes place at the other end of the same decade, and for the overwhelming majority of its running-time presents a radically more serene and idyllic vision of the Soviet Union. Unspecified in the movie itself, the geographical setting can be deduced as somewhere near Semey in modern-day Kazakhstan, then known as Semipalatinsk — notorious as the site of the USSR's first nuclear test, in August 1949.
This backwater was selected by Stalin's henchman Beria as it was supposedly "uninhabited" — which would be news to farmer Tolgat (Karim Pakachakov) and his teenage daughter Dina (Elena An), who tend their flock in a windblown corner of the pan-flat steppe. Their harmonious relationship to nature and the film's bold visual approach are neatly encapsulated by the first post-credits sequence, in which Tolgat naps on the back of his flat-bed truck using a similarly somnolent sheep as a pillow, the scene initially presented from a distant angle, high above the dozing duo. Kott, his cinematographer Kapanadze and sound-designer Filipp Lamshin (whose contributions are especially critical given the absence of speech) instantly take us into the inner world of the observant, artistically-inclined Dina, whose delicate leaf-collages hint at a desire to explore horizons far beyond home. Her two smitten, spirited suitors represent forking paths in the map of destiny: she's semi-betrothed to local lad Kaisyn (Narinman Bekbulatov-Areshev), until fate happens to bring pop-eyed Max (Danila Rassomakhin), whose Caucasian blondness indicates he's not from these peri-Asian parts, into the picture.
Test is essentially a simple tale, imaginatively told, with grace-notes of genuine transcendence and beauty studded throughout its brisk running-time. Kapanadze makes playful use of widescreen aspect-ratio, often framing his compositions with a pictorial precision that would have Wes Anderson sighing in appreciation. At times the arresting simplicity of the visuals seem to owe more to animation than conventional live-action cinema — the gymnastically hyperactive, grinning Max is especially cartoonish, in contrast to the more rounded presences of Dina and Tolgat, whose warm father-daughter bonds are amply conveyed without benefit of dialogue. Amid these gusty climes, perhaps even language has been blown away.
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Read also Aleksandr Kott: The Test (Ispytanie, 2014) reviewed by Robert Bird in KinoKultura