Kantemir Balagov, Director of Russian film, ‘Beanpole’

28-year-old Russian director Kantemir Balagov’s powerful new film Beanpole is a haunting piece of work that has stayed with me long after watching it at last year’s AFI. The film, which just played at the Palm Springs Film Festival, will premiere in New York on January 29 and Los Angeles on February 14. The psychodrama was also Russia’s shortlisted entry for the 2019 Best International Feature Film Academy Award. Unfortunately it was not nominated.

Beanpole marks Balagov’s second feature film, having made his directorial debut with Closeness (2017), which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in Un Certain Regard and was awarded the FIPRESCI prize.

Inspired by the book, The book The Unwomanly Face of War by the Nobel Laureate Svetlana Alexievich, Balagov’s brilliant story centers on two women in post-WWII Leningrad, damaged by their experiences on the battle lines and eking out what remains of an existence working in a veterans hospital — a rust-colored hovel in the ruins of the city.

Iya and Masha (astonishing newcomers Viktoria Miroshnichenko and Vasilisa Perelygina), intensely bonded after fighting side by side as anti-aircraft gunners, attempt to readjust to a haunted world.

As the film begins, Iya, long and slender and towering over everyone-hence the film’s title – works as a nurse in a shell-shocked hospital, presiding over traumatized soldiers. A shocking accident brings her and Masha closer and also seals their fates.

On the surface level, Beanpole is a word that describes the physical attributes and outlook of his protagonist, Iya, as she’s a very tall woman. But for the graduate of Alexander Sokurov’s directing workshop at Kabardino-Balkarian State University, Beanpole means so much more.

“It’s more about clumsiness and this is how my heroes feel and express feelings in the film – they are clumsy, they are learning how to live again after the war and it is very difficult for them,” Balagov told Reel 360.

During AFI, I had a chance to speak with Kantemir, but before we get into that, watch the trailer for Beanpole below:

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It’s an amazing film. Powerful. When I saw it last night, I thought to myself, “Well done.” You have such a distinct voice. Thank you.

I know The Unwomanly Face of War inspired Beanpole. Was there a point in the book, where you just said “I have to make this film?” I am interested in the fates of women and especially women who fought in the Second World War. According to data, this was the war with the highest participation of women. As an author, I am interested in finding an answer to the question: what happens to a person who is supposed to give life after she passes through the trials of war? The book represents the face of war . It’s full of interviews of people who supported war. So, I became curious with this idea.

What was the most difficult part of the production? I think researching, because you have to have a feeling that you are not wasting your strength and creativity. It’s exhausting. We researched during pre-production, shooting and post-production because we wanted to be authentic and give respect to reality. Leningrad was especially important for me as it was the city that survived this terrible siege, and the consequences of the siege played an important part in the film. It was vital for me to feel this space and background in the film, and you can feel

The production design does feel authentic and quite frankly, amazing. I also noticed your use of colors in the film. When I started to study the diaries of people who lived during that time, I learned that despite all the hardships and the devastation, they were surrounded by bright colors every day. This conflict between bright colors and the nature of post-war life is also very interesting to me.

What is your favorite part of the production process? I think it’s casting. Because there is a difference between characters on paper and characters on the screen. And when you watching and meeting with a lot of actors and actresses, you thinking to yourself do they fit the character or not. Yeah, I think casting is a great stage of production.

How have audiences have responded to the film? I’m trying to not to watch my movie because I’ve seen it so many times! But, I’ve watched with the audiences at festivals and have found they are very trusting towards the movie.

What got you into filmmaking, Kantemir? I didn’t have the feeling that I wanted to be a director. When I was a teenager, I was trying to find myself. I tried to find myself in photos. I tried to become a photographer because my father bought me the full photo camera because you can make money by taking photos in North Caucasus. So, I started taking wedding photos.

A wedding photographer?! Yeah. Ha. But everyone in North Caucasus was a wedding photographer, so I started to make a YouTube series and I showed it to my teacher, fimmaker Alexander Sokurov (Russian Ark). He took me into his group and I entered his course. So that’s how I became a director.

Well, I want to see more of your work. What’s next? Thank you. I don’t know what’s next. I’m searching.

Contact Colin Costello at colin@reel360.com or follow him on Twitter @colinthewriter1