Sunday, January 17, 2010

Andre Khrzhanovsky's lovely Russian oddity/odyssey A ROOM AND A HALF

The odd but oddly invigorating Russian film A ROOM AND A HALF by Andre Khrzhanovsky is quite a mixture. Part past/part present, some sections animated but mostly live-action, split between color and black-and-white, and dealing with a "real" subject (prize-winning, Russian emigre poet Joseph Brodsky, shown below) in an imagined manner, the movie -- all over the place -- still manages to coalesce and enchant.

While this may be due to its being more a tale of the emigre state (and what the homeland means as we age) than one about the actual Brodsky, either way it casts a spell that is difficult to resist.  Khrzhanovsky, as director and co-writer (with Yuriy Arabov) has found a way to gracefully mesh all his parts into a happy whole, keeping us interested via images that are often exquisite, some even when they are sorrowful.  And his animation -- the genre for which this director is most noted -- is especially fine (see the two stills at bottom): not just as an antidote to the GCI-to-the-maxed Avatar but as as a door that opens to near-seamlessly unite disparate worlds, times, and ideas.

From a trans-Atlantic phone call made to a clearly empty, long-uninhabited apartment, the film lifts off into a journey of the mind and heart back to childhood, school days, young adulthood and then to old age (the middle years are pretty much dispensed with -- though in truth Brodsky lived only to age 55).  Within this framework, the images chosen are sometime so riveting and meaningful as to be not easily forgotten. And the actors who play Brodsky as a child and young adult (that's Artem Smola, above, second from left, seated) and old, as well as those who play his parents (Alisa Freindlikh, below, left, is Mom and Sergey Yurskiy, right, Dad) are well-cast indeed.  

Memory is key here: how it haunts us as we age, what it can achieve, as well as what it cannot. There are beautiful moments throughout: From a scene that unites Jews, Muslims, Christians to several depicting that seldom-seen happy-family life in Russia, from the quest for a first sexual experience to a reunion with parents long dead ("How did you die?" Brodsky asks? They tell him, then follow with, "How did you die?")

That rare example whose images and ideas seem to grow stronger, better as the film moves along, A Room and a Half should prove catnip to seniors, poetry lovers (though I wish a bit more of Brodsky's work had been included here) history buffs and lovers of Mother Russian.  The under-30 crowd?  I don't know....

A Room and a Half opens Wednesday, January 20 at Film Forum for a two-week run through Tuesday, February 2 -- with screenings at 1:00, 3:30, 6:30 and 9 pm.

All photos courtesy of Seagull Films
except that of Mr. Brodsky, courtesy of

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