"Babusya" is a worthy if somewhat sentimental attempt to show the erosion of family values in contempo Russia through the story of an old peasant woman shunted from relative to relative. Third feature from Lidia Bobrova, dallies too long with secondary characters but makes interesting nods toward larger themes, touching on the aftermath of the war in Chechnya and the materialism of the post-Communist generation.

“Babusya” is a worthy if somewhat sentimental attempt to show the erosion of family values in contempo Russia through the story of an old peasant woman shunted from relative to relative. Third feature from Lidia Bobrova, following her 1998 warts-and-all portrait of small-town life, “In That Land,” dallies too long with secondary characters but makes interesting nods toward larger themes, touching on the aftermath of the war in Chechnya and the materialism of the post-Communist generation. Softhearted auds may connect with pic’s plangent depiction of the old woman’s fate and nostalgic treatment of rural life.

After looking after her grandchildren and sickly daughter her whole life, crinkly-faced granny Tusya (Nina Shubina) is sent to live with her sister, Anna (Anna Ovsyannikova), in a neighboring town in the Archangelsk region of northern Russia. First half of the film takes its time introducing the family and peripheral characters.

A day out at the village fete provides an excuse for charming performances by a saw and spoon-playing couple, plus a troupe of traditional Cossack dancers. But when Anna injures herself during a kerfuffle with her alcoholic son, Victor (a hammy Vladimir Kulakov), Tusya has to find yet another new home in which to hang her headscarf, leading to a final act which ends on a note of Dostoyevskian sacrifice and redemption.

Via the grandchildren, film showcases a motley cross-section of social types, from “New Russian” yuppies who can’t bear to sully their perfectly decorated apartment with granny’s presence, to impoverished refugees from Chechnya who warmly welcome her. However, the movie only tentatively draws parallels between governmental policy and private lives, at one point gesturing at the war in Chechnya as one cause of societal malaise.

Nothing could be more quintessentially Russian than the film’s celebration of heroic peasants brimming with love for the Motherland but cursed by forces beyond their control. Twinkly-eyed, apple-cheeked Shubina, looking like someone straight off a vintage Socialist Realist poster, passively accepts her ill-treatment and still loves the country for which she built trenches around Stalingrad during WWII. Tech credits are generally perfunctory, apart from some nifty editing to jumpstart the flashbacks.

Babusya

Russia

Production

A Lenfilm Studios/3B production. (International sales: Lenfilm Studios, St. Petersburg.) Produced by Andrei Zertsalov. Directed, written by Lidia Bobrova.

Crew

Camera (color), Valeri Revich; editor, Tatiana Bistrova; music, S. Smetanin, C Anyfriev; art director, Pavel Novikov; sound, Maxim Belabolov. Reviewed at Karlovy Vary Film Festival (competing), July 6, 2003. Running time: 95 MIN.

With

Nina Shubina, Olga Onishenko, Anna Ovsyannikova, Vladimir Kulakov, Sergi Anufriev.
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