Eva Neymann’s first narrative feature, “At the River,” is a beautifully shot exercise in old-school Russian/Eastern European art cinema, with superb formal compositions rendering pic’s minimalist narrative content more bitter than sweet. Slim, short-story-derived tale has an elderly mother and spinster daughter at odds, as ever, during one eventful day spent traversing their Ukrainian village. But there’s real potency to the droll humor eked out en route, whose underlying pain is underlined by a stark fadeout. Strictly fest material, pic merits attention from programmers worldwide.
Faded promises from both communism and capitalism shadow the “Grey Gardens”-like hermitage of Mama (Marina Polizeymako) and Maskya (Nina Ruslanova). When a government official visits their sizable if decrepit house, their dynamic becomes clear: Joyless, easily embarrassed Maskya nags, nags, nags, while seemingly senile Mama deliberately misbehaves to goad her. After this lengthy, subtly hilarious interior setpiece, barely mobile Mama insists on getting out to the riverside where she spent her happiest youthful hours. Rambling, minor-key episodic adventures over hill and dale ensue. Gorgeous-looking widescreen pic wends its leisurely yet precisely controlled way toward a harsh, even tragic finish. Perfs and presentation are tops.