Childhood candor and resilience are seamlessly wedded with adultlike pragmatism in the affecting young leads of “The Last Cold Days.” Directing duo Bolat Kalymbetov and Bulat Iskakov pack a poetic punch that underlines Kazakhstan as a growing force in world cinema. Extensive fest rounds look certain.
Set near the end of World War II, story centers on two evacuee siblings befriended by a tyke in a remote Kazakh outpost far from the battle front. Learning his mother has died in hospital, Vadik tries to conceal the news from his younger sister, Masha, and from authorities who’ll pack them off to an orphanage. His friend Akezhan begins skipping school to help him beg, steal food and stay clear of a violent band of urchins.
The film’s arresting editing structure reruns key moments to heighten their impact and interrupts events with flashes of both past and future scenes. In the opening segment, editing is used to impart information economically: A soldier steps from a train and is stabbed and robbed by young thugs; coffins are unloaded; and a defenseless kid has food stolen from his bowl.
Moral questions surface naturally, as does a sense of charity and shared destiny between the kids. Their need to feel part of the harsh world around them is left implicit. In their discussions of what hunger and cold can drive them to , the young non-pro cast approaches neorealist excellence.
A color title sequence showing a cloudy sky gives way to melancholy monochrome. Lenser Sergei Ossenikov lingers frequently over memorably bleak images, from factory smokestacks against the barren landscape, through skeletons of wrecked boats along the beach, to a dwarf leading a camel-drawn cart loaded with coffins. T. Muhametjanov’s music adds a poignant complement.