Autumn 2007 Edge series
Sunday, October 14, 2007 at 4:00pm
Sunday, October 14, 2007 at 7:00pm
Directed by Andrei Kravchuk
Starring Kolya Spiridonov, Denis Moiseenko, Sasha Sirotkin, Andrei Yelizarov, Vladimir Shipov, Mariya Kuznetsova, and Yuri Itskov
Rated 14A ·
Imbued with overtones reminiscent of Charles Dickens, The Italian is a humane and sympathetic study of a young boy in the grim world of a Russian orphanage. Scheming adults are the only role models for children who, when they’re not planning their escapes, are simply trying to find their way through a world with no hope for the future. It is not difficult to detect the documentarian behind director Andrei Kravchuk’s winning feature debut, in which he seamlessly depicts the harsh reality of this environment while remaining open to the dramatic possibilities offered by the story of six-year-old Vanya (Kolya Spiridonov).
The orphanage is run by the wily “Madam” (Maria Kuznetsova), who is only interested in making money by selling the children to wealthy Westerners. Each adoption is treated as a financial transaction. The vulnerable but tough-skinned Vanya is given the nick-name “the Italian” when he is chosen for adoption by an Italian couple. It seems Vanya will be one of the lucky ones; at least he will escape. The other children his age find themselves at the mercy of older kids involved in everything from theft to pimping. However, Vanya’s life changes when he meets the birth mother of another boy who had left for the West in the hands of foreigners. This encounter has a huge impact, and convinces Vanya that he needs to find his own birth mother.
Confronting one obstacle after another, Vanya is tireless in his attempt to find his mother. During his voyage, he encounters kindness and sympathy, treachery and duplicity, but remains unwaveringly focused on his goal.
The Italian is blessed with Spiridonov’s stunning lead performance — full of spunk, yet also deeply sensitive. Like the works of Dickens, the film is neither black nor white, depressing nor uplifting, but rather a wonderful combination of differing emotions. Vanya’s roller-coaster ride through post-Glasnost Russia is an edifying and inspirational tale.