Starring: Viktoria Miroshnichenko, Vasilisa Perelygina, Konstantin Balakirev
Director: Kantemir Balagov
Running Time: 137 mins
Beanpole (Дылда) is a Russian film about two women who try to cling onto hope and rebuild their lives in the midst of the exhausting conflict in Leningrad in 1945.
Bringing us deep into the chaos of war-torn Leningrad at the very end of one of history’s most intense conflicts, Beanpole opens up a fascinating and striking insight into fighting for survival and meaning in life under the spectre of relentless strife. In that, it’s not meant to be the easiest watch in the world, and it impresses with the odd moment of striking drama, furthered by two strong lead performances that really bring home that sense of exhaustion.
Saying that, however, Beanpole isn’t quite the devastating, soul-destroying look at life in conflict that it really aims to be. While its visuals strike home hard, and its premise is captivating throughout, the film never really manages to power its main message of determination whatever the cost in the face of what seems like a desperate, hopeless situation, and as such Beanpole never really has the gravity to really engross you from beginning to end, unfortunately suffering as it tries to wrestle with complex themes that just aren’t delivered in powerful enough fashion.
That’s not to say the film lacks any sort of emotional or dramatic impact. At times, there are twists and revelations that hint at the unbearable realities of these two young women, and the film’s main theme – that of the duo putting their heart and soul into recovering from total desperation – makes for captivating viewing throughout, particularly as things become even tougher for them despite the gradual easing of the conflict through 1945.
In that, Beanpole features some intriguing historical insight not just in the real struggles and livelihoods of people who experienced the conflict in Leningrad, but also an often glazed-over look at how things turned out after the war, not sitting content with the rosy, nicely tied-up finale that you may be used to.
On top of that, we see through the two lead performances the huge emotional toll the conflict has on people struggling on a daily basis. Viktoria Miroshnichenko and Vasilisa Perelygina are great throughout, balancing their characters’ pure, innocent qualities and their exhaustion in the face of conflict, and Perelygina in particular impresses as she begins to show just how soul-sapping living endlessly with war can be, yet still retaining the determination and drive to find a way out of sheer hopelessness.
That’s a key theme of Beanpole as a whole, but it’s the lead performances that really show it in the most vivid fashion. When it comes to the screenplay and directing, however, the film doesn’t quite have the same devastating, soul-destroying impact that it perhaps should.
For me, one of the main reasons for that is the fact that the film never really looks or plays out in the relentless, exhausting fashion that the story deserves. In its use of camerawork and cinematography, Beanpole is reminiscent of Son Of Saul, an equally heavy-going story that didn’t hit quite as hard as I expected, in part because of the fact that it all looks a little too polished, and takes away from the gritty, unbearable realities of the daily struggles of life in the middle of a major conflict.
The cinematography is striking, and in tandem with impressive production and costume design throughout, Beanpole is a good-looking movie, but perhaps too much so for its own good. Modern filming technology aside, the big difference between this film and classics like Sophie’s Choice, Come And See and others is a lack of grainy, dirty visuals that play such a key role in bringing you deep into the characters’ struggles.
And on top of that, the film plays out at a pace that’s slow, but not exhausting. That would normally be a benefit, but for the story at hand, I felt that Beanpole needed to be more relentless and ruthless on you as the viewer, and rather than playing out like a simply pensive drama, it could have brought so much emotional power and connection with its story through more devastating, tiring pacing.
Overall, Beanpole is a striking watch, and with an intriguing and often impactful insight into the devastating struggles of life in conflict, the film has more than enough depth. However, it’s far from the ruthless, hard-hitting experience it aims to be, and although its two lead actresses impress with powerful performances, the rest of the film just doesn’t hit home with the intensity its story really merits, and that’s why I’m giving it a 6.8.