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In That Land

Depressing everyday realities - most notably alcoholism - in contemporary rural Russia are given largely comic yet uncaricatured treatment in Lidia Bobrova's flavorful second feature (following 1992's "Hey, You Wild Geese"). Slice-of-lifer's willful lack of polish won't inspire much offshore commercial exposure, but it's solid fest fare.

Depressing everyday realities – most notably alcoholism – in contemporary rural Russia are given largely comic yet uncaricatured treatment in Lidia Bobrova’s flavorful second feature (following 1992’s “Hey, You Wild Geese”). Slice-of-lifer’s willful lack of polish won’t inspire much offshore commercial exposure, but it’s solid fest fare.

Set in a nameless, frequently snowbound village, story roams freely around its inhabitants, whose agricultural work force leader Chapurin tries to hold things together despite scant government support. His personal campaign is to end the male population’s tendency toward layabout boozing – going so far as to publicly post lists of drunkards and (later on) those who’ve died from drink-related causes.

But the eternally put-upon villagers are sunk so deep in denial that so long as life struggles (barely) forward, they resent being told any problem exists. Even a sudden death caused by widowed local bootlegger Anna’s latest batch fails to stir much self-awareness.

Kindhearted, passive cattle-herder Skuridin is, like Chapurin, just middle-aged; yet vodka, a shrewish wife’s nonstop abuse, and heavy family responsibilities have made him a wizened fogey before his time.

A fire, a birth, a raucous birthday party and other modest incidents fill the rest of first hour’s episodic narrative. Then a prison inmate, to whom Anna had been writing on behalf of her approaching-spinsterhood daughter, abruptly appears. Konstantin is a towering, bossy ex-con who doesn’t shrink from using brute strength to get his way (or shirk on work duties); briefly, it looks like he may seriously disrupt village life. But casual fadeout suggests he, too, will adapt to becoming one of the human “cows and bulls” who keep plodding along here , making do on very little.

Indeed, despite warts-and-all purview, pic ultimately affirms this community’s survivalist strength over its obvious foibles. Comic zest comes not from any contrived situations, but from the colorfully loud, argumentative, robust nature of residents. They’re all played in hearty if unpolished fashion.

Likewise, scenarist-helmer’s approach is on the plain, artless side, with unfussy tech contribs to match, though landscape beauty does not go neglected. Allowing that some character development and plot turns might have been better defined, “In That Land” nonetheless offers an enjoyable, insightful sketch of lives that might otherwise have been milked for stock peasant-suffering turgidity.

In That Land

(COMEDY-DRAMA -- RUSSIAN)

Production: A LenFilm Studios and Narodny Film-Video Studio production. Produced by Alexander Golutva. Directed, written by Lidia Bobrova.

Crew: Camera (color), Sergei Astakhov, Valeri Revich; editors, Tatiana Bistrova, Raisa Lisova; set designer, Gennadi Popow; sound, Igor Terechow. Reviewed at San Francisco Film Festival, May 1, 1998. Running time: 87 MIN.

With: With: Dmitri Clopov, Vladimir Barchaninov, Anna Ovsiannikova, Alexander Stakheev, Andrei Dunaek, Svetlana Gaytan.

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