Patrick Gamble

Russian Film Festival 2012: ‘I’ll Be Around’ review

★★★★☆

Pavel Ruminov’s I’ll Be Around (Ya Budu Ryadom, 2012) makes its way to the 6th London Russian Film Festival after winning the Grand Prix Award at this year’s Kinotavr Film Festival – the largest film festival currently held in Russia. A harrowing and emotionally overwhelming tale about the bond between mother and son, I’ll Be Around pulls at the heartstrings without ever succumbing to cliched Hollywood manipulation techniques – and is all the more tragic as a result. Inna (Mariya Shalayeva) is a restaurant manager and single mother who has an incredibly close-knit relationship with her son that transcends maternal duty into genuine friendship.

However, Inna’s life unexpectedly comes crumbling down around her when she is diagnosed with an incurable disease. With little time to wallow in her own misfortune, Inna sets out to find a suitable family to look after her young son Mitya. What better way to examine the moral decency and ethical faculties of a society than through the eyes of a dying mother looking for a foster family for her young son, simultaneously exposing the fragile biological foundations all our lives and relationships are built upon.

Inna’s illness is never disclosed to us and neither are we exposed to the heartbreaking news being broken to her. Instead, the illness grows organically, as does our understanding of it and the inevitably devastating outcome it will have. It’s the film’s strict attention to the peripheral details of this tragic affair which make it so effective. I’ll Be Around is not a film about love, death and life, rather an emotionally weighted parable for the fragility of existence and the hardships of giving up the one you love – an aching portrait of inherent maternal instincts dictating culturally implanted emotions.

Shot thorough a grainy, sepia-dappled film stock that recalls watching old 16mm home videos, there’s an undeniably haunting quality to I’ll Be Around, no more so than when we observe Inna with her chosen foster family. Normally so vivacious and full of life, she now fills the screen like a ghostly apparition, seeping into the background like a wraith-like guardian diminishing into thin air. It’s during these scenes that we realise why director Ruminov has decided to take such a lo-fi approach to filming, with his handheld methodology subconsciously building a bank of manufactured memories which make the film’s inevitable ending all the more torturous.

Sadly, I’ll Be Around’s final act loses momentum, with Ruminov clearly unsure how best to depict Inna’s isolated decline. However, the striking performance of Mariya Shalayeva is more than enough to make this narrative misstep incredibly watchable – even if it’s not the quite ending some would have wished for.

The 6th Russian Film Festival runs from 2-11 November. For more of our RFF coverage, simply follow this link.

Patrick Gamble