A dour, yet poetic eulogy for a country still scarred by over a century of war, civil dispute and harsh dictatorship, Alexander Proshkin’s Redemption (Expiation, 2012) examines the seeds of destruction sewn within a populace still struggling to recover form the turbulent chapter of Soviet rule. On the first New Year’s Eve since the end of the Second World War, a small snow-capped southern Russian town is suffering withdrawals from the dizzying elation of victory. The daughter of a fallen soldier, 16 year-old Sasha, struggles to come to terms with her mother’s modest food pilfering and the fact that she’s also harbouring a prisoner of war in their living room.
These ideological issues pry on young Sasha’s mind, escalating during a heated argument which sees this precocious teenager report her mother to the local police. This cold act of paternal betrayal seems to have little affect on her conscious until she meets a young soldier, whose love and affection begins to warm her heart and melt her icy demeanour.
One seemingly unimportant scene in Redemption sees a group of mischievous young boys dispose of an unexploded bomb down an old mineshaft, with the resulting devastating injuring a group of nearby labourers. However, instead of halting their work and running for safety, each of these improvised workmen just brush the dust of their shoulders and continues to work – a stark metaphor for the anaesthetising view toward violence years of maltreatment and depression have had on this isolated community.
Proshkin’s film is infected to the core with a desperate sense of despondency. The only conceivable path out of this era of misery is love, yet rather predictably even this heartfelt escape route is an unreliable one, with the amount of heartbreak on-screen only overshadowed by the poverty and destitution presented. This bleak backdrop is fashioned by Proshkin through a deft use of lighting, illuminating his characters despondent faces with soft sunlight and a teasing sense of optimism. That is until Redemption is ingratiated with a second coating of domestic despair, with the film’s grey tones dimmed by further darkness and orchestrated by a brooding score of weeping strings.
Similar in tone and direction to Mikhail Kalatozov’s sublime The Cranes are Flying (1957), Redemption sadly feels a little to overly theatrical, playing on melodramatic silent cinema tropes with mixed results. However, there’s no denying the cruel after-taste of war that drives Proshkin’s visual depiction of hope crushed by disenchantment. His film remains an almost impenetrable examination of futility which – whilst lacking in entertainment value – is a thoroughly effecting and emotionally exhausting example of the brutality of human conflict.
The 6th Russian Film Festival runs from 2-11 November. For more of our RFF coverage, simply follow this link.