In ‘Beanpole’ Peacetime is Anything But

Russia’s Oscar entry for Best International Feature focuses on the bond between two women as they try to seek ways to heal from the traumas of war.

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Kaylee DeFreitas

The Russian drama is now playing at the Film Forum on Houston St. (Staff photo by Kaylee DeFreitas)

Kaylee DeFreitas, Arts Editor

When war is over, is there ever peace? What happens to those most affected? How do they go back to the lives they had before the war? All these are questions posed by the film “Beanpole.”

“Beanpole,” begins just as the Siege of Leningrad ends and tells the story of Iya (Viktoria Miroshnichenko), also known as Beanpole, and Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina) after a tragic accident brings them closer together. It follows the pair as they search for hope in each other and something to heal the wounds the war has left behind. The film was featured at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival and was chosen as Russia’s entry for the Best International Feature category at the Oscars. 

It is hard to believe that director Kantemir Balagov is only 28 years old and that this is his second major feature. The depth and understanding he has of the mental and physical traumas of war is beyond his years and portrayed on screen in a beautiful and haunting way. 

The two actresses who lead the film are equally enthralling and make the film genuinely remarkable. Miroshnichenko and Perelygina both make their feature film debut, but the way they so subtly emote in the vast silences makes one think they are seasoned professionals. Their connection is magnetic, and the tension they can build with such limited dialogue is thrilling. They each possess an unpredictable nature that leaves viewers on the edge of their seats in many scenes, but the power they possess and the trauma they’ve endured is never questioned.

“Beanpole” delves into how the simple joys of daily life become tainted with anguish after the war. In one particular scene, Masha spins around in a beautiful green dress, laughing as Iya watches on with a smile. As the spinning becomes more erratic, the viewer sees Masha become more distraught and overcome with emotions. The once happy moment has now become one of panic and unease. These realizations happen one after another, some more jarring than others, as these fleeting joyful moments reveal that their lives will never be what they once were.

The cinematography of this film is mesmerizing with its highly saturated greens, reds, and yellows. The attention to color creates a world that feels like a fantasy, which sharply contrasts the harsh realities of the film. This works wonderfully as it adds to the almost disjointed nature of the film and reflects how the characters are not in tune with their psyches and seek out ways to find more hopeful lives. 

“Beanpole” is an artful look at life after war and those who are left most affected. It tries to grapple with the idea of peace and if it can ever be achieved when the mental and physical tolls have been so extensive. It’s an effective story about the profound bond between two women that will stay on your mind long after you watch it. 

“Beanpole” is playing at Film Forum from January 29 until February 11, 2020. The film is in Russian with English subtitles.

A version of this article appears in the Monday, Feb. 3, 2020, print edition. Email Kaylee DeFreitas at [email protected]