A kind of arty “Mad Maxim Beyond Smelterdome,” Hungarian-born helmer Tamas Toth’s freshman feature melds Soviet industrial grunge with striking visuals and pacing to visceral effect. This largely Mosfilm-financed pic heralds a talent of considerable promise and merits serious attention from specialized outlets and webs in search of the fresh and offbeat.
Setting is a colossal steelworks in a remote, snow-covered corner of Siberia, producing armor alloys for the military. Working conditions are tough, bordering on the subhuman.
Episodic, loosely knit story pivots on one of the men at the plant, Ignat, whose only kicks come from escapades off the base, such as stealing sheep from nomads or (in a particularly exciting sequence) robbing a train at gunpoint. Out of sheer boredom, Ignat enters the annual fight between the region’s strongest metalworker and strongest miner, a knock-down, drag-out slugfest that’s the movie’s climactic set piece.
Budapest-born Toth, 27, moved to Moscow in the early 1980s and studied film at the state VGIK school, finally getting “Children” off the ground in spring 1991. Pic has a strong Russian flavor, tempered by a Hungarian distancing, with muted color lensing by Sergei Kozlov creating a living, snorting monster from the mini-city of steel in which the characters exist.
Performances are all vivid, but the movie is essentially a concept item, trimly put together and with an otherworldly feel that lifts its potentially depressing subject matter. Pic also cries out for widescreen, rather than standard-ratio, composition. Above title is the Hungarian one used at Budapest Film Week unspooling, despite fact that all dialogue is in Russian.