Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Piotr Todorovsky: Riorita - Риорита (2008)

Director Piotr Todorovsky
Cast: Dmitri Ulianov, Konstantin Vorobiev, Alexei Gorbunov, Ivan Krivoruchko, Yakov Shamshin, Anatoli Gushchin

Petr Todorovskii's latest film, Riorita, contributes yet another dark chapter to the history of the Great Patriotic War as recently depicted on the Russian screen. This tale traces the fate of the Pichugovs, a salt-of-the-earth peasant family of father and three sons during the last days of the war. Three of the four are killed, undone not by the German enemy, but by the enemy within, the former Kolyma guard Barkhatov, the film's Mephistopheles.

Riorita opens at night; it is pouring rain, and the new recruits stand unprotected for the roll call. There we meet the Pichugovs: Aleksandr Gavrilovich and his sons Arsenty, Pavel, and Sergei—as well as the ingratiating Barkhatov. The picture is in color, but most of the time it may as well be in black and white, so somber are its chromatics. The trees tower above the puny men. Sunlight rarely shines upon them. Melancholy music, including the song “Riorita” occasionally punctuates the gloom.

Barkhatov carefully weaves his webs to lure the Pichugovs. The first to fall prey to Barkhatov's wiles is an easy target, Arsentii, the handsome, self-centered eldest son. The Pichugovs are suspect, having spent most of the war in the “relative safety” of occupied territory. Life didn't change for them, father Aleksandr Gavrilovich explains to the ever-inquisitive Barkhatov. They worked the fields as they always had and gave the grain to their starosta. “ Why didn't you join the partisans?”, asks Barkhatov, feigning friendly interest. It seems that the two younger sons, Pasha and Serezha, had wanted to join, but Arsentii set out after them to drag them back, presumably with his father's approval. Arsentii is completely lacking in patriotism; he has no desire to defend either otechestvo or rodina. He is incensed that the soldiers who pressed them into service gave them only five minutes to collect their things, no time for a “proper” goodbye with his beauteous younger wife Kalia, whom he loves to distraction. Arsentii monotonously whines that Kalia will leave him because they have no children. While out on a work detail, Barkhatov whispers to Arsentii that if he were wounded, he would be sent home. Barkhatov, soft and smooth as the velvet of his name, first offers to shoot Arsentii before adding, “Or you can do it yourself.” In their first encounter with the Germans (heard but not seen), Arsentii jumps into a trench, shoots himself in the hand, and flees to the rear. The nurse who is tending him quickly realizes what he has done and runs to fetch the doctor. Arsentii melts into the forest, but not for long. Captured, he is brought before a military tribunal; cowering, begging for his life, crying out for Kalia, he is executed by firing squad as his father and brothers watch, together with the rest of their company. Tears in his eyes, a sorrowful Barkhatov grasps Aleksandr Gavrilovich's hand.

Reviewed by Denise J. Youngblood © in KinoKultura

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