Thursday, April 27, 2017

David Bezmozgis' NATASHA explores the Russian emigrant community in Canada

Beginning with some promise, as we view a family of Russian emigrants in Toronto and soon learn that one of the family, an "uncle" with pretty consistent marital problems due to some rather bad choices, is once again about to embark on matrimony, NATASHA -- the 2015 film from Canadian writer (of Latvian birth) David Bezmozgis -- soon concerns itself with the title character, the daughter of that uncle's new wife, and her budding relationship with Mark, the teenage son of one branch of this family. Mark's mother encourages her son to introduce little Natasha, unhappy and estranged from her own mom, to her new city.

That introduction soon includes sex, lies and teenage obsession, the latter on the part of poor Mark, who turns out to be the perfect mark for the wiles of this budding Russian trollop. Mr. Bezmozgis, shown at left, is said to be an acclaimed writer in his native land, but on the basis of this movie, an acclaimed filmmaker he ain't. Natasha is as tiresome, trashy and obvious as its non-heroine, with just about enough content to fill a half-hour television show.
Unfortunately, the film lasts 96 minutes.

It also offers up an ending that simply stops dead -- exactly at the point where we finally have a bit of interest in "what happens next," the preceding portion having been more than apparent and utterly predictable.

Performances are perfectly OK, befitting the material to a tee, with Alex Ozerov (above) making a hale, hearty and hot-looking teen with those typically raging hormones, and Sasha K. Gordon (below) providing a blandly non-expressive face in order to make us understand how coolly deceptive our little girl really is.

Other family members fare better and are more interesting, but there is finally no getting around just how banal and obvious is Bezmozgis' message. The Eastern Europe emigrant experience in the West is, of course, an often fraught and difficult one, but I find it odd that My Father's Guests, a French film by Anne Le Ny that you can stream via Netflix -- a comedy no less -- offers a much more nuanced, interesting and even believable look at an emigration-for-marriage situation than does this supposedly "dramatic" movie.

While we get a bit of family conversation regarding Israel, politics and the Jewish experience during the course of Natasha, the movie's main goal seems closer to titillation than anything else. This tiresome exercise, from Menemsha Films, opens tomorrow, Friday, April 28, in New York City at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema. Further playdates? Nothing appears to be on the agenda as yet.

However, Mr. Bezmozgis and the film's two young stars will make personal appearances over this coming weekend at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema. Click here or here to see the appearance schedule.

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