Review: Beanpole

Viktoria Miroshnichenko in “Beanpole.”

Dir. Kantemir Balagov. 139 minutes.

The year, 1945. The place, Leningrad. The Great Patriotic War is over, Hitler is dead, the moment of glory has passed. Iya (Viktoria Miroshnichenko), a hospital orderly discharged from the Red Army with shell shock, works to construct some sort of meaning or order in her life, which lacks both physical comforts and spiritual illusions.

“Beanpole” is a quiet war film. Its weapons are not bombs or bullets, but starvation and shortages. Its cast of the physically and psychologically maimed would make Cassius look fat and complacent. But this isn’t misery porn — refusing to recreate familiar WWII imagery, director Kantemir Balagov demystifies an episode of legendary suffering, building a sense of normalcy and even mundanity. The closest analogue to this unique movie may be “Son of Saul,” a 2015 Holocaust film that also resisted the urge to show us the expected historical setpieces.

“Beanpole” is not a film many would accuse of sentimentality. Nonetheless, it captures moments of tenderness and familiarity so unfeigned that its hopeless characters become almost enviable. Balagov also refuses to draw the expected dichotomies of oppressor and oppressed — in this terra incognita, everyone is condemned to be both victim and perpetrator. Dazzlingly spontaneous and wincingly uncomfortable, “Beanpole” is a film that rejects easy explanations and will leave a mark on viewers.