Review: Still River
by Marina Richter
- Angelos Frantzis’ mystery-drama explores the relationship of a married couple caught in a downward spiral in a small industrial town in Siberia
The fifth feature by Greek director Angelos Frantzis, Still River [+see also:
interview: Angelos Frantzis
film profile], had already bagged the Greek Film Critics Association (PEKK) Award at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival before coming to Tallinn to compete in the Official Selection of Black Nights. With a script penned by Frantzis and newcomer actor-writer Spyros Kribalis, who appeared earlier this year in Nikos Labôt’s Her Job [+see also:
interview: Nikos Labôt
film profile] (premiered at Toronto), this mystery-drama is hard to label and difficult to comprehend, but nonetheless beautiful to watch. Behind its impressive visuals, shot digitally with RED Epic cameras and LOMO lenses, and dominated by mood-setting lights in white, blue and grey tones, is cinematographer Simon Beaufils (Yann Gonzales’ Knife + Heart [+see also:
interview: Yann Gonzalez
film profile], Justine Triet’s In Bed with Victoria [+see also:
interview: Justine Triet
film profile]). There is probably no better environment in which to address the relationship of a married couple caught in a downward spiral than a small industrial town nestled in the harsh Siberian landscape, squeezed between the greyness of the factory smoke and the thick layer of fallen snow.
We are introduced to Anna (Katia Goulioni) and her husband Petros (Andreas Konstantinou) through a conversation that at first feels like the confession of a woman in psychotherapy, until it becomes obvious that the man’s reaction to the woman’s account of her sexual fantasies, about a tall, blond man with a scar on his face, is overly emotional. His intense glare and quick-fire volley of questions pierce through the darkness of the room. Moments later, the couple is entwined in their bedroom, in an attempt to revive their sex life. The passion is, as it turns out, one-sided, and the distance between the two grows bigger as the film progresses.
The couple’s new home is part and parcel of Petros’ job as an environmental consultant to a factory whose chemical spills threaten to pollute the town’s river. The local power games are too complex to grasp, at least at the beginning, and Petros is caught in a situation that he is not willing to accept until, all of a sudden, he is faced with a much bigger personal drama – the abstinence he has been enduring in his marriage doesn’t tie up with the revelation that his wife, who denies any sexual activity with other men, has been pregnant for six weeks. One spouse starts believing in miracles and the other in scientific proof.
Post-Soviet buildings scarred by wind and humidity harbour a number of mysterious characters that creep into Anna’s life. She is introduced to a series of bizarre Christian rituals and is regarded as the new Holy Mother, blessed with an immaculately conceived child. Or so she is led to believe. A mysterious young man from her sexual fantasies turns out to be a real person – a former swimming champion called Leonynt Burzak (Kirils Zaicevs), who apparently lost his life many years ago in a train accident. When he is sighted in the village, the question arises of whether he is a ghost or an imposter sent by Petros’ company to seduce Anna.
Having an open ending is often a welcome move, but creating a strong draft by leaving all the doors and windows ajar leaves too many questions unanswered. Was everything surrounding Anna’s pregnancy a well-plotted intrigue or a miracle? Is the church using her for its own mysterious purposes? Is Leonynt a ghost or a man who is still alive and well?
Still River, which was completely shot in Murmansk and Latvia, is a co-production between Greece (Heretic/Alatas Films), France (Mezzanine) and Latvia (Tasse Film), with world sales handled by Heretic Outreach.
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