Somewhere between grim and Grimm, between Dickens and Disney, Russian director Andrei Kravchuk charts the plight of his country’s army of orphans—hapless waifs deserted by drunken parents—and a post-Soviet government in disarray in The Italian. Caught between the brutalities of orphanage life and the profiteers of illegal adoption, little Vanya Solntsev (Kolya Spiridonov) longs to reunite with his real mother, and sets out to learn to read in order to find her. Beautifully photographed by Alexander Burov, who also shot several films by the Russian master Alexander Sokurov, The Italian achingly evokes both the physical depredations of the orphanage (dank, stuffy interiors and slushy gray grounds) and the nexus of rough kindness and malign neglect in which a corrupt, ineffectual director vies for power with a nascent mafia of hardened teenage inmates. A film more fully committed to its subject (and to the moody ecstasy of Russian fatalism) might have explored the shattered fantasies of reunification that are the fate of most kids dumped by an underclass itself broken by want and drink. Lured, perhaps, by the promise of international markets, Kravchuk instead opts for routine uplift, and once the heroic journey is set in motion, the rest is ballast.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 9, 2007