Closeness (Tesnota) - 2017 : Grim, and often way too real

Palash Volvoikar, Ponda | 27 November 2017 16:08 IST

Closeness (Russian: Теснота) is a 2017 film screened at the 48th International Film Festival of India, 2017. The Russian drama is the feature film debut of director Kantemir Balagov, and explores the plight of a family in a small Jewish community in Russia’s North Caucasus. 

The movie is set in 1998 Russia, and filmed in the older 4:3, boxed aspect ratio, constantly reminding you of the cramped lifestyle that the characters live. The story follows 24-year-old Ilana, who works in her father’s garage to help the family out. After a family gathering to celebrate the engagement of her younger brother David, the newly engaged couple gets kidnapped, and a ransom is demanded.

While the story seems like it is supposed to be about the family, the focus lies on Ilana, played by Darya Zhovner. Ilana is a not a girly girl,  a tomboy,  and she doesn't care much for her community. The community fails to help the family out with the ransom, and instead takes advantage of them, and this just fuels Ilana's defiant moods. She has an angry spat with her mother, and goes on and lives with her boyfriend, an eyebrow raiser, since he belongs to Kabardian background, a local ethnicity that doesn't meld well with the Jews.

   

Their short time living together has one of the most controversial scenes in the film, where the two are watching a VHS tape showing footage of anti-Semitic Islamist violence. The addition of this raw, violent footage emphasizes the grimness of the whole setting of this film. Ilana is then shortly taken home, and it is revealed that her parents have agreed to marry her off to the son of a wealthy person from their community, who agrees to help them out with the ransom in return.

The direction is stellar, and while all of the cast does a good job, Darya steals the show. Right from the very beginning, she delivers a performance worthy of the film's focus on her character, and she owns it. While the violence seen in the controversial scene might not be for everyone, this movie is definitely worth a watch. 

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