The deep friendship which develops between a Russian man and the wolf who threatens his livelihood makes for enthralling cinema in “The Vesyegonsk’s She-Wolf,” about historical enemies (hunters and wolves) achieving harmony together. Exquisite cinematography captures Russian snowscapes in all their immaculate beauty and the noble canines are best in show. A natural for fests, film could also be suitable for limited arthouse release or a makeover set in a U.S. or Canadian wilderness. Some bloody moments may need to be trimmed for the school-age market which is likely to thrive on pic’s storybook qualities.
A pack of wolves savagely attacks hunter Egor (Oleg Fomin), forcing him to take refuge in a tree. As the hunter faces his new role as the hunted, story flashbacks to when he originally enraged the trio of beasts by raiding a litter of cubs. Within that flashback, there’s another flashback, to show the beginnings of the intense rivalry instigated by Egor’s need to protect his chickens and livestock.
This cinematic double somersault is executed with ease, quickly establishing each protagonist’s motivation. And after being rescued from the tree by his fellow residents of the village of Vesyegonsk, the narrative settles down.
Angry about the wolves’ threat to their safety, Egor’s neighbors set out to dispose of the roving pack. On this follow-up mission, Egor shoots a she-wolf point blank but, astounded by the animal’s ability to stay alive, he nurses it back to health, much to the consternation of his wife and the townfolk. Egor’s bonding with the animal moves beyond affection to a relationship so intense that the community believes he’s become a werewolf.
Central focus of the picture is depicted with sensitivity and intelligence, with vet documentarian Nikolai Solovtsov in full control of his material. Keeping both the realistic and the artistic aspects of the story in balance, helmer never compromises the truth of his yarn, despite some improbable moments.
Fomin is rock solid as Egor, using his piercing blue eyes and strong-jawed stoicism to good effect. Supporting perfs are less convincing, but, as the viewer isn’t encouraged to care about anyone other than Egor and the wolves, it’s not a major problem. More troublesome are over-formal English subtitles which distractingly use words like “whence” and “whom.”
Yevgeni Doga’s pleasing score underlines the film’s themes without resorting to cliches. Other tech credits are solid.