Tesnota [Closeness] (2017)

Director: Kantemir Balagov
Writer: Kantemir Balagov, Anton Yarush
Cast: Atrem Cipin, Olga Dragunova, Veniamin Kac, Darya Zhovnar, Nazir Zhukov
Part of: Viennale
Seen on: 2.11.2017

1998 in Nalchik. David (Veniamin Kac) and Lea, both Jewish, just got engaged. What should be a joyous time for them and their families turns into a nightmare as the both of them are kidnapped. The demanded ransom is set so high that David’s family can’t possibly afford to pay it. His sister Ila (Darya Zhovnar), always the rebellious one, is the only one who might be able to help.

With the unusual setting and the obvious attempt to include social criticism in the film, Tesnota could have been an interesting film, but unfortunately it didn’t work out that way for me.

With a runtime of two hours, Tesnota is a long film but it feels at least twice as long as it is. And it just didn’t seem to ever want to end, which was very much the opposite of what I was feeling about it.

I think a big part of the problem was that the film just didn’t know what to focus on. It was about the kidnapping, and then it was about growing up, and then maybe it was all about ethnic/racial unrest in Nalchik? And it’s not that you couldn’t make a film that tackles all of that and shows how these things inform each other (because they most definitely do), but here it felt not like one narrative that takes on many topics, but several narratives about very different things that are only loosely connected.

That the film jumps around and never gets to the point of things is never clearer than at the end of the film: it remains an absolute mystery to me why Ila makes the choice she makes and goes the way she goes. Then, suddenly, things are over at a point that doesn’t feel like an ending at all.

Add to all of that that the film features a rape scene that it doesn’t seem to realize is actually a rape scene and not a sex scene, and it lost the last of the goodwill it managed to create with the setting and the well-rounded characters. All I could think was that I’m out.

Summarizing: doesn’t work.

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