- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 12, 2004

“Father and Son” may stir or stifle the curiosity of art-house patrons who’ve been wondering what Russian director Aleksandr Sokurov has been up to. Mr. Sokurov’s white elephant, “Russian Ark,” combined a cursory tour of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg with a lavish re-enactment of a state ball during the czarist era. It rallied a considerable following in Washington, where imperial nostalgia may be a widespread longing.

Small in scale yet far more clouded thematically, “Father and Son,” exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema, looms as a tougher sale. Much of the imagery is amber-hued (interiors as a rule) or lemon-hued (exteriors as a rule), and Mr. Sokurov begins in an amber trance: a blurry composition of tangled male limbs that eventually resolves itself into a masculine pieta. A father, played by Andrei Shchetinin, is embracing a son, played by Aleksei Nejmyshev in the middle of the night, evidently to comfort the boy after a nightmare.

Dad is conspicuously bare-chested and ruggedly handsome. Mr. Shchetinin resembles Goran Visnjic with Sylvester Stallone’s smile and logs more topless footage than William Holden as the stud in “Picnic.” The son is not a little boy but a cuddlesome 20 or so. It’s not unreasonable to suspect that a homoerotic reverie of some kind is being superimposed on an interlude of paternal and filial tenderness.

These overtones never quite fade away, although Mr. Sokurov’s attachment to portentous glances and stalking scenes may reflect mere stylistic affectation devoid of coherent emotional or dramatic origins.

Mr. Sokurov articulates a debatable thesis and reiterates it: “Fathers tend to crucify sons, while loving sons submit to the crucifixion.” He never gets the hang of methodical, illuminating confirmation. The characters often strike provocative poses, but they’re never fleshed out.

The filmmaker neglects to account adequately for anyone’s past or present. The dad is identified as an ex-soldier and sonny boy as a student at a military academy. The professional allusions in each case remain superficial and arbitrary.

It is forlornly obvious that their claustrophobic rooftop apartment lacks a feminine presence or touch. Ultimately, the nebulous scenario is easier to rationalize as a fable of male futility when starved for devoted womenfolk.

A marginal character is identified as the son’s ex-girlfriend — in a sequence where the director is more interested in bisecting faces with a window frame than in paying attention to what’s being said. She seems to have gravitated to someone else, perhaps a rival without similar paternal baggage.

Experienced travelers will probably recognize a lemon-tinted Lisbon as the movie’s location when the son and a buddy begin strolling around town. They may wonder who put the Russian military academy somewhere in town (more European bonding, perhaps), but then, this is a movie that places little stock in the tangible.

** 1/2

TITLE: “Father and Son”

RATING: No MPAA rating (adult subject matter)

CREDITS: Directed by Aleksandr Sokurov. Written by Sergei Potepalov. Cinematography by Aleksandr Burov. Production design by Natalya Kochergina. Costume design by Bernadette Corstens. Music by Andrei Sigle, based on themes by Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky. In Russian with English subtitles.

RUNNING TIME: 84 minutes

WEB SITE: www.wellspring.com


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