A downbeat but finely played and visually arresting chamber drama about loss, grief and reconciliation, Russian-lingo “The Lover” — which received screenplay and cinematography awards at San Sebastian fest — confirms the promise shown by Odessa-born helmer Valery Todorovsky in 1997’s “Land of the Deaf.” While story of a man who confronts his recently-deceased wife’s paramour is told at a deliberate pace that may be off-putting to some, pic is currently pitching woo at fests and could parlay that into limited arthouse flings, with tube play likely and homevid a possibility.
His wife’s sudden death while working in the kitchen comes as a great shock to Mitya (Oleg Yankovsky, of Tarkovsky’s “Nostalgia” and Ildiko Enyedi’s “My 20th Century”). He returns to smoking after 10 years and his absent-minded search for his pipe leads him to a diary his wife kept that reveals that she had a long-time lover. Some detective work turns up the latter, Vanya (Sergei Garmash), with bulk of pic given to tangled psychological relationship between the two very different, grief-stricken men. Subplot involving Mitya’s simple-minded son Petya (Andrei Smirnov), who believes his mother died of stress, only adds to the sense of helplessness and loss.
Todorovsky’s emphasis on the little things in life — a constantly rattling window, the tram that Mitya rides compulsively through the night — gives texture to a dramatic set-up that might, in less perceptive hands, seem overly familiar. Both thesps shine, creating complex characters from a jumbled mix of stoicism and raw emotion.
Craft contributions are first-rate.