Ostrov [The Island]

| April 10, 2008

Winner of five Nika Awards (Russian Oscars) including Best Film, Pavel Lungin’s Ostrov (The Island) is about a man who survives on guilt from an event twenty years previous. While serving aboard a barge during World War II, he is given the choice either to kill his captain or be killed. In the intervening years, he has become a monk at a small Eastern Orthodox monastery and continues to serve penance daily. His fellow monks do not understand his cryptic talk and strange behavior, and as he is usually playing a hoax on one of them, he is frequently disliked as well. Word that he has prophetic gifts and the power to heal has spread to the mainland, and strangers come to the island to receive his blessing.
With dreary isolated scenery and Russian subtitles, the film’s ponderous weight comes across with surprising ease. Watching him stoop to push a wheelbarrow full of coal along a long dock, and persistently return to refill it, one begins to see him as Sisyphus, eternally dwelling on his shame and striving for penance. The main character is played by Pyotr Mamonov, a former rock star in the USSR who has now adopted life in an isolated village. Rarely making public appearances these days, he turns in a remarkable performance as the penitent Father Anatoly. The film reaches its climax when his past catches up with him in his solitude.
Ostrov is beautifully directed and the pacing is consistent to envelope the viewer in this isolated world. In the United States, this film is exclusively distributed by Film Movement, a company who purchases rights to independent and foreign films and maintains a film club. Special features on the DVD includes biographies of the actors and director, as well as a short film by Adam Elliot titled Brother.

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