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Beanpole: 'Remarkably assured' Cannes winner

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Beanpole is a film about the lasting, traumatic brutality of war in which not a single shot is fired and the most shocking scenes are quiet, intimate moments with a dreamlike sense of tragic inevitability.

But while the script pulls no punches, director Kantemir Balagov manages to maintain a delicate optimism, as he follows his characters' desperate attempts to bring their broken minds and bodies back to some sense of normality.

Iya (Viktoria Miroshnichenko) is the eponymous Beanpole, a nurse in post-war Leningrad whose anxious passivity is matched by an almost translucent pallor. She often fades even further as she's overcome by catatonic fits, a lingering effect of the concussion that saw her discharged from the front lines. She does her best to look after six-year-old Pashka (Timofey Glazkov), but it isn't until former comrade Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina) arrives that we find out the true nature of their relationship.

We might expect the arrival of confident, affectionate Masha to be a comfort for Iya, but she comes with her own trauma and is perhaps even more vulnerable than her fragile friend. A glimpse of a large abdominal scar while Masha bathes foreshadows the third act revelation of her harrowing story. The two settle into a precarious co-dependence that veers between domineering manipulation and tender romance.

The microcosmic story takes place in the aftermath of one of the biggest, most destructive battles of WW2, but it's built from tightly-framed shots of claustrophobic domesticity, not sweeping panoramas of smouldering rubble. We see the human cost of war close-up in kitchens, bedrooms and laundry rooms, with only a crack in the wall or a dusty window hinting at the chaos outside.

Beanpole is a remarkably assured sophomore effort for Balagov and a deserved winner of Cannes 2019's Un Certain Regard prize.

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