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FATHER AND SON (Otets i syn) (director/writer: Alexander Sokurov; screenwriter: Sergey Potepalov; cinematographer: Alexander Burov; editor: Sergei Ivanov; music: Andrei Sigle; cast: Andrei Shchetinin (Father), Aleksei Nejmyshev (Aleksei, the Son), Alexander Razbash (Sasha), Fedor Lavrov (Fedor), Marina Zasukhina (Girl); Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Thomas Kufus; Wellspring Media; 2003-Russia/ France/Germany-in Russian with English subtitles)
“Tediously mannered look at the obsessive intimate bonds between a father and his teen-aged military son.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Russian director Alexander Sokurov’s follow-up to his acclaimed Russian Ark, an art tour of the Hermitage, is a probing but tediously mannered look at the obsessive intimate bonds between a father (Andrei Shchetinin) and his teen-aged military son Aleksei (Aleksei Nejmyshev), who is following in his officer father’s military footsteps. Aleksei resides in his divorced father’s unnamed seaside city (filmed in dreamy Lisbon) rooftop living quarters while studying medicine in the military school. It’s a lyrical companion piece to his dirgelike 1997’s Mother and Son, and is the second of a planned trilogy. The last of the trilogy to be filmed later is entitled “Two Brothers and a Sister.”

Though the filmmaker vehemently denied at the Cannes Film Festival any homoerotic intent, the film opens with the naked father and son locked together in a comforting embrace while the breathing hard son is comforted from a recurring nightmare. There are continuous close-ups of them throughout that imply more than just a father and son in a loving relationship, as I had trouble taking it any other way even though no overt sexual activity occurs. The son’s girlfriend (Marina Zasukhina) is hardly part of the story and is never seen in an intimate pose with Aleksei, but when with him reacts in a jealous way to Aleksei loving his father more than her. But I, suppose, it’s best to take Sokurov at his word, and look at the film through the eyes he intended–one of a transcending love. But it, nevertheless, reminds me of Beau Travail (1999) and the homoerotic ritual that the French Foreign Legion soldiers went through hinting of their suppressed desires. Somehow this ambiguously arcane consummate family drama (in the form of an ethereal fable) never engaged me as much as did Claire Denis’ more literary and accessible film. It might be of interest to note about this highly personal and hermetic film is that Sokurov’s father was a career military man.

The somber dreamlike arthouse film, less a story than a psychological examination of a father-son relationship, is visually stunning with its beautifully drawn images peeking through the clouds at times. Yet its always disturbing theme centers around the son’s Oedipal conflict–loving and wanting to kill his father at the same time. Their close relationship is perceived as both a comforting and stifling one that needs to change in order for both to grow, or else their unbearable painful love will probably prove detrimental to both of them. The father contemplates getting a transfer to a new city, or getting married again. But his love for his son is so overbearing that he’s stagnating and can’t seem to make a move for the necessary change–afraid to leave his son alone. It’s pointed out by the son that “A father’s love crucifies and a loving son lets himself be crucified.” Aleksei’s girlfriend drops the following bombshell on her lover while she stands on the balcony of her apartment building and he on the street below: “Crucified love means you can’t be equal.”

REVIEWED ON 12/2/2004 GRADE: C +

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”