“The Biography of a Young Accordion Player” is a vivid, touching chronicle of a few months in the life of a spirited young boy in a town in Kazakhstan shortly after the end of World War II. The touchstones of a rural boyhood, from observing the town whore in action to discovering the movies, are conveyed with a lyrical authenticity that will be welcome at fests.
Eskin, a robust child who still suckles at his mother’s breast, plays rousing Russian folk tunes on the accordion at dances. There are 300 Japanese POWs in residence in his mining town and, to the neighbors’ dismay, Eskin’s family is friendly with two of them — an error that leads to the arrest of Eskin’s father.
The mostly B&W reminiscences are told in voiceover from the (unseen) adult Eskin’s p.o.v. His disembodied voice often recounts a snippet of dialogue at the same time it’s being spoken and played out onscreen, creating an audio echo that reinforces the historical mood while underscoring the distancing effect of memory.
Since pic’s jumble of simple pleasures and injustice is portrayed from the child’s perspective, the effect of politics on ordinary citizens can be seen without discussing politics overtly.
Acetate records will replace live accordion accompaniment and the “Japs” will return home, but not before a local authority figure suffers defeat for a disproportionate act of violence.
Eskin’s youthful experiences truly come across as distant events in an exotic place, an effect that is aided by the somewhat grainy film stock in addition to thoughtful camera placement. Thesps convince across the board.
At the Angers fest of European first films, pic won the Intl. Federation of Arthouses (CICAE) prize, earmarked to help underwrite its distribution in France.