Six year old orphan Vanya (Kolya Spiridonov) is next in line for adoption at a remote Russian orphanage; Zhanna (Maria Kuznetsova), who makes a decent living arranging such adoptions with the headmaster (Yuri Itskov), brings an Italian couple to check him out and they are delighted with him. But in the two months it takes to finalise the paperwork, a woman turns up at the orphanage looking for her abandoned son, which inspires Vanya to search for his own mother. First he learns to read with the help of young orphan and hooker Irka (Olga Shuvalova), and breaks into the safe to find his file. It is inconclusive, but refers to a previous care home which first took him in as a baby. Vanya escapes so that he can find the original care home where the records might tell him who and where his mother is.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
With a riveting performance by young Kolya Spiridonov as the six year old Vanya, The Italian is a bitter sweet drama that captures the heartbreaking squalor of Russian orphans while highlighting the power of the spirit. Andrei Romanov's screenplay never degenerates into caricature as he draws the less honourable characters, and never slips into sentimentality when he is framing Vanya and his wretched peers.
Jealous of his forthcoming new home from their depressed vantage point, Vanya's fellow orphans dub him The Italian; they tease him and the older ones teach him hard lessons about life, but these scenes are handled with care: the children are not turned into nasty brats, and their basic decency is palpable. The orphanage suffers from lack of funds, but not from lack of care. The headmaster, a touching characterisation by Yuri Itskov, at one point reveals his own sad story, which accounts for his tough love kind of care for his charges.
When Vanya sets off on his quest, there is no triumphant fanfare; indeed, it's a dangerous and scary escapade for the little fella, and we barrack for him every vodka stained centimetre of the way.
Andrei Kravchuk's direction in this his feature debut is focused and sensitive, always allowing us to make our own assessments and judgements of the characters and their actions. There are some exceptionally moving scenes as well as moments of insight into contemporary Russia, making The Italian a wonderfully complex film with plenty of tension and plenty of heart.
All the support roles are given their due importance as the story twists and turns in unexpected directions, while Aleksandr Burov's cinematography is outstanding. The Italian won the international film critics prize at the European Cinema Festival (2005) and the Crystal Bear in Berlin (2005), before its Australian screening at the Russian Film Festival in September 2006.
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ITALIAN, THE (M)
CAST: Kolya Spiridonov, Yuri Itskov, Denis Miseenko, Nikolai Reutov, Olga Shuvalova, Sasha Sirotkin
PRODUCER: Andrei Zertsalov
DIRECTOR: Andrei Kravchuk
SCRIPT: Andrei Romanov
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Aleksandr Burov
EDITOR: Tamara Lipartiya
MUSIC: Alexandr Knaifel
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Andrei Rudiev, Aleksandr Svetozarov
RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Jump Street Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 25, 2007
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