×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Tokyo Film Review: ‘Sveta’

Non-professional deaf-mute actress Laura Koroleva delivers a remarkable performace in a chlling drama about motherhood and murder.

Director:
Zhanna Issabayeva
With:
Laura Koroleva, Roman Lystsov

1 hour 39 minutes

The last thing anyone would expect in a film about a struggling deaf-mute family facing foreclosure on their apartment is for the mother to decide that murder is the one and only solution. But that’s precisely the case in “Sveta,” a truly disturbing and utterly compelling social horror movie by Kazakh filmmaker Zhanna Issabayeva (“Nagima”). Performed almost exclusively in Russian sign language and featuring a remarkable lead performance by non-professional Laura Koroleva, “Sveta” is bound to make a name for itself on the festival circuit and could possibly find theatrical life with the support of brave distributors.

The inspired casting of Koroleva, whom Issabayeve discovered working in a center for the disabled, plays a vital role in keeping viewers engaged in an unrelentingly bleak story set in a world where human kindness is an extremely scarce commodity. With her striking face and a death stare of almost other-worldly intensity, Sveta’s virtually impossible not to watch, no matter how appalling her actions become.

A foreman at a garment factory staffed by hearing-impaired workers, Sveta is visited by a bank representative and learns through her interpreter (Nataliya Kolesnikova) that she has two weeks to pay mortgage arrears or lose her apartment. Worse news soon follows. The factory manager (Alim Mendybayev) announces that 12 workers and one foreman will be laid off owing to a downturn in business. Despite being the most skilled and qualified member on staff, Sveta loses her job because single mother Valya (Varvara Masyagina) is deemed to be in greater need of the pay check.

Sveta’s fury at the decision and utter contempt for Valya’s situation is just a hint of what’s to come. After she storms out of the factory wearing a low-cut dress and stands on the side of the road it appears Sveta has decided to become a sex worker. Here, and everywhere else, such expectations are subverted. After hailing a taxi, she locates Valya, smashes her head with a rock and calmly steals her money.

Sveta’s ruthless nature extends to the family home. She berates deaf-mute husband, Ruslan (Roman Lystsov), for being weak and ineffectual. The absence of any love between them is clear, but what’s really confronting is Sveta’s attitude toward raising their young son and daughter, also deaf-mutes. “No tenderness,” she barks at Ruslan, as if the slightest compassion might make them weak in a world Sveta views as being only cruel and unjust.

After being re-hired to replace the dying Valya and carrying on as if nothing happened, Sveta sets her sights on guaranteeing her family’s financial security. This time around, she enlists Ruslan to poison his 92-year-old grandmother, thus inheriting her apartment. Sveta may not cry for the death of anyone, but many viewers may shed a tear when Marina (Polina Lungu), the now-orphaned little daughter of Valya, is thrust into Sveta’s care in the film’s devastating final act.

The ice in Sveta’s veins is matched by Issabayeva’s uncompromising screenplay and razor-sharp direction. It’s not until more than an hour has elapsed before Sveta offers a half-smile, and viewers will have to wait until the very final sequence to discover at least something about what makes her cold and calculating mind tick.

Performances from a cast comprised entirely of non-professionals are excellent. The film’s standout technical asset is Mikhail Blintsov’s mobile camera, which frequently films Sveta from directly behind and over her shoulder, making viewers feel like they’re accompanying this immoral creature on her terrible mission of survival at any cost.

Tokyo Film Review: ‘Sveta’

Reviewed at Tokyo Film Festival (competing), Oct. 29, 2017. Running time: 99 MIN. (Original title: “Cbeta”)

Production: (Kazakhstan) A Sun Production production. (International sales: Sun Production, Almaty, Kazakhstan.) Producer: Zhanna Issabayeva. Director, screenplay: Zhanna Issabayeva. Camera (color): Mikhail Blintsov. Editor: Azamat Altybasov.

With: Laura Koroleva, Roman Lystsov, Alim Mendybayev, Nataliya Kolesnikova, Varvara Masyagina, Polina Lungu. (Russian sign language, Russian dialogue)

More Film

  • 'The Apollo' Review: A Legendary Theater

    Tribeca Film Review: 'The Apollo'

    You should never take for granted a documentary that fills in the basics with flair and feeling. Especially when the basics consist of great big gobs of some of the most revolutionary and exhilarating popular art ever created in this country. Roger Ross Williams’ documentary “The Apollo,” which kicked off the Tribeca Film Festival on [...]

  • Playwright Mark Medoff author of "Children

    Mark Medoff, 'Children of a Lesser God' Playwright, Dies at 79

    Mark Medoff, the playwright who wrote Tony Award-winning play “Children of a Lesser God,” died Tuesday in Las Cruces, N.M. He was 79. His daughter Jessica Medoff Bunchman posted news of his death on Facebook, and the Las Cruces Sun-News attributed the cause to cancer. “Children of a Lesser God” starred John Rubinstein and Phyllis Frelich [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Interscope Films Relaunches With Full Slate at Tribeca (EXCLUSIVE)

    The Interscope record label’s interest in film/music crossover isn’t exactly a secret: With hit companion albums for “A Star Is Born,” “Black Panther” and “La La Land,” they’ve seemed to own the soundtrack space at times in recent years. And the company hasn’t completely made a secret of its desire to move into film production. [...]

  • Avengers: Endgame

    'Avengers: Endgame': Fans and Theaters Assemble for Biggest Marvel Movie Ever

    For San Diego resident Shawn Richter, “Avengers: Endgame” is more than the conclusion to a monumental period in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As the West Coast branch chair of Avengers Initiative, a cosplay charity that raises money for causes like the Ronald McDonald House Children’s Charities, the comics of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are [...]

  • Jillian Bell appears in Brittany Runs

    Amazon's 'Brittany Runs a Marathon' Sets Summer Release

    “Brittany Runs a Marathon” will be rushing to theaters on Aug. 23. Amazon Studios dated the comedy on Wednesday. The pic, starring Jillian Bell (“Rough Night,” “22 Jump Street”), won the audience award at the Sundance Film Festival. The flick follows the titutal Brittany, who decides to run around New York City in order to [...]

  • Lionsgate Hires Lynn Whitney in Marketing

    Lionsgate Hires Former Warner Bros. Exec Lynn Whitney

    Lionsgate announced Wednesday that Lynn Whitney will become head of worldwide paid media, partnerships, promotions and consumer products. Whitney was formerly the executive VP of worldwide media at Warner Bros.   In her new role, Whitney will build out media campaigns for movies like Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron’s romantic comedy “Long Shot.” “I am [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content