Straight from the artist’s unconscious, Alexander Sokurov’s Father and Son posits a wildly eroticized filial relationship. The movie begins with the sound of heavy breathing and a series of anatomical close-ups suggesting father and son in intimate embrace. The latter is around 20; his ruggedly handsome dude of a dad seems scarcely 15 years older. The frequently bare-chested father is a military officer; his more modest boy is a recruit. Often resembling two statues, the guys spend much of the movie staring into each other’s eyes, exercising together on the roof, and exchanging long, tender hugs.
Such narrative as exists is precipitated by the son’s jealousy of a friend who seems entirely too interested in his dad. The possessive lad is smacked by another Freudian broadside when his duplicitous vixen of a girlfriend, herself jealous of his bond with his hunky father, leaves him—so she says—for an older man of her own. “A father’s love crucifies,” the son tells her, thus adding incense to the already solemn atmosphere with an element of Christian allegory. Father and Son borders on the risible but, because Sokurov is Sokurov, this exalted, wacky scenario—which uses Lisbon as an imaginary Russian seaport—is amazingly staged, inventively edited, and rich in audio layering, with camera placements that sometimes verge on the Brakhagian.
Outraged by questions on the movie’s homoeroticism after its 2003 Cannes premiere, Sokurov lectured the press on the dirty-minded preoccupations of the decadent West. Such patriotic defensiveness mirrors the film’s. That both father and son are soldiers (and Sokurov himself was an army brat) evokes the Männerstaat or the nation as expression of masculine authority. If Sokurov’s bucolic Mother and Son—screening this week at Anthology along with Russian Ark and Second Circle—can be parsed as love for the (mother) land, Father and Son is more like duty to the state. Indeed, the father is explicitly a wounded veteran—but of what? Afghanistan is the war that dare not speak its name.