Six-year-old ragamuffin Vanya (impressive Kolya Spiridonov) must choose between letting himself be adopted by a foreign family or running away to find the mother who abandoned him, in uncompromising Russian children’s drama “The Italian.” Briskly helmed by feature debutant Andrei Kravchuk, pic depicts the hard-knock life in a remote Russian children’s home with stark realism, evolving smoothly into a taut adventure tale as protag hits the road in search of his mom. Possibly a bit too hard-hitting for more protected Western kids, pic might appeal to subtitle-friendly tweens and teens in upmarket territories.
Vanya earns the nickname “Italian” from the other kids when an affluent couple from Italy offer to buy him from the orphanage run by avaricious Madam (Maria Kuznetsova) and her thuggish consort Gregori (Nikolai Reutov). Since the older kids must resort to stealing and prostitution in order to survive, Vanya can see staying at the home is no option. He steals his records and sets off by foot and train to find his natural mother, pursued hotly by Madam and Gregori, braving corrupt authorities and assorted dangers.