It is not often in the history of cinema that a director under the age of thirty (30) creates a work on the level of Beanpole. Kantemir Balagov looks to be one of the most exciting young auteurs of his generation—or at least he has one major film here that sets up for that.
Beanpole is set in Leningrad—and it is almost unspeakably bleak: the drama takes place in a hospital during the war. There is depression, a ghastly murder, assisted suicide, and lines like “there’s nothing left inside you to make life.”
Viktoria Miroshnichenko plays Iya. She’s striking. She’s beyond fair and six feet tall. Vasilisa Perelygina plays her friend Masha with red hair. Both of the girls are ghostly in their colorlessness, and too far gone emotionally (deadened by his horrific world) to really grasp on to in their story.
The major triumph from Balagov here is the rich production design and the dedication to a specific color palette. Beanpole is luxuriously loaded with reds and greens. This aesthetic dedication, combined with the devastating material, recalls Kieslowski’s Blue. It is sort of Nicolas Ray’s Johnny Guitar meets the war genre and I’m not sure that’s ever been done in cinema history. This Christmas-color combination ambitiously pervades the 140-minute running time. There are green bedpans, a little red circle design on the white dishes in the far background. There is no detail too small for Balagov. The speedometer light has a green tint in the car.
And when it isn’t the décor that takes your breath away, it is the lighting. Miroshnichenko’s white hair is tinted. The deep cherry wood is another clear, inspired choice.
At the 101-minute mark, there is a great composition of the bridge. Balagov lights up the red underneath the bridge and a few green lights in some of the windows.
At the 126-minte mark, Miroshnichenko is shot in profile- she looks like a young Tilda Swinton. There’s rich detail in the wallpaper design behind her.
This is a dense, evocative, and beautiful 140-minutes. It accumulates. The entire film is saturated in this somber tone and color. You almost feel Balagov using blood in one scene as a way of getting even more of the color in.
2019 is getting richer and richer.
Indeed. It makes me wonder what the 2010’s list update is going to look like, it feels like 2019 will take up about 20 spots at the moment. It makes me excited that we have such a rich year for film in recent history, even if I do mourn the other years that will lose representation on the list haha.
@Declan- It sort of makes up for 2020. I’m not completely finished with 2020 but it feels like (haven’t actually done this exercise yet) that if I took the combined 25 best films from 2019 and 2020, 20 of them would be from 2019.
@M*A*S*H- Indeed, what a special year, I have another one coming that I’m writing my notes on now from 2019
Man i swear the last years of the decade are always the best. 39, 59, 79, 89, 99, and 2019 are all standout years for their respective decades. I wonder why that is
@Big Chungus- you’re right! Great work here.
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