REVIEW: Дылда [Dylda] [Beanpole] [2019]

Rating: 8 out of 10.
  • Rating: NR | Runtime: 130 minutes
    Release Date: June 20th, 2019 (Russia) / January 29th, 2020 (USA)
    Studio: Kino Lorber
    Director(s): Kantemir Balagov
    Writer(s): Kantemir Balagov & Aleksandr Terekhov

He’ll heal us.

World War II has left Stalingrad in shambles. Buildings are destroyed. Families are torn apart. And meaning has all but disappeared in the face of atrocities that won’t simply go away. The head doctor at the city’s hospital (Andrey Bykov‘s Nikolay Ivanovich) tries his best to hold morale by saying that “peace is on its way” and yet the words can’t help but feel hollow. He lost everyone in the war himself and now he’s tasked with pretending that a soldier devoid of movement anywhere but his head (Konstantin Balakirev‘s Stepan) should be thankful for being alive. We all tell ourselves lies in this manner to stay afloat in a world that seems hopeless. We all try to find a light in the darkness no matter how dim.

Iya (Viktoria Miroshnichenko) and Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina) found that light in each other. The former saw it in a friend who might just become more once the dust settled. The latter saw it in an opportunity to save her baby (Timofey Glazkov‘s Pashka) by letting Iya take him after her discharge for post-concussion syndrome. Would the trio live happily ever after together? It’s nice to think in the moment when odds are more likely that they’ll never see each other again. So they hold onto the possibility. They move forward, endure the pain, and pretend everything will be all right. But as director Kantemir Balagov and co-writer Aleksandr Terekhov‘s film Dylda [Beanpole] shows, reality is rarely so forgiving. And the illusions we fabricate are rarely airtight.

Balagov and Terekhov are working with façades whether seemingly innocuous smiles or the laughter shared to combat the nightmare that’s taken hold. As such, I don’t want to give too much away. Much of the narrative’s power lies in the characters’ ability to fall into situations that make it so the fantasy they’ve created can no longer be sustained. We are therefore asked to initially take them at their word. Unless we saw something with our own eyes earlier to refute what’s being told, these “truths” are all we have. So we hold onto them and interpret what follows through their filter until we reach each respective cliff wherein artifice finally falls away. It’s in those brief moments of authenticity that we understand how those lies save them.

Maybe it’s deciding not to tell your children that their father isn’t dead because it behooves you to see whether he wants to remain alive in his current condition. Maybe it’s lying about a scar to yourself in order to believe that the surgery it hides wasn’t as devastating as the one you imagine. Or maybe it’s that simple lie about having a future like those who were spared from the frontlines and its human cost despite knowing those horrors are here to stay. And having the curtain pulled to reveal the reality beneath isn’t always the worst outcome of such deceptions—not when the lie you tell can prove so good that it gets you into a position where something better can become real in its place.

That’s where Iya and Masha find themselves. Being together was the dream that got them through the war, but it was always conditional. Remove one piece and the puzzle starts to separate. They now have to deviate from the path to replace what was lost and get back to the fantasy—only to inevitably wonder if those diversions are better than the original plan. So Masha courts a young man (Igor Shirokov‘s Sasha) in order to selfishly use him as a means for food and escape while Iya is forced to look on in fear that an event outside her control pushed her love into his arms. He improves Masha’s potential to the point where Iya must compromise her identity in a desperate attempt to win her back.

And we eventually discover they aren’t the only ones hiding. Sasha hides from his mother, Ivanovich from the past, and Stepan from the future. War left them broken to fend for themselves and do what they must to quiet the demons within. Sometimes the rejection of self that’s ignited is lit under a positive light (going against a doctor’s moral code to help facilitate euthanasia) and sometimes negative (these are the ones you should let the film unravel in real-time). They each weigh the outcome of what happens if they do nothing against what happens if they comply with another’s selfish desires. Will the end result leave them worse off than before? Or will it achieve its goal? Sadly, you don’t often know until the deed is done.

This reality ensures that every actor in Beanpole will be afforded the emotional complexity to respond to hard truths they can no longer ignore. Balakirev’s Stepan can’t keep laughing with the other wounded heroes in the hospital once his wife (Alyona Kuchkova) arrives. Miroshnichenko’s Iya and Perelygina’s Masha (both miraculous in their debut film roles) can’t lose themselves in the promises they made on the battlefield now that the solitude and struggle of the aftermath is staring them in the face. We’re at a moment in history where people are running in front of trams to commit suicide because the disparity between one’s hopes before war broke and the futility that came upon its conclusion seems insurmountable. Every day becomes a new challenge full of disappointment.

But we’re resilient—so much so that our resiliency exposes more tragedy than not. Why? Because we advance regardless of the consequences to reinvent our present at the detriment of those counting on us. And those who’ve been betrayed will welcome their betrayer back when that reinvention fails. We find ourselves caught in co-dependent cycles forever repeating during our search for “normalcy” even as its potential grows slimmer by the day. That’s where Iya and Masha reside. They’re caught in a reactionary series of events that pushes them to go against every fiber of their beings if it means not becoming trapped in a corner alone. Their genuine smiles are therefore heartbreaking because we know they can’t last. The lies get us through today, but not always tomorrow.

[1] Viktoria Miroshnichenko and Vasilisa Perelygina in a scene from Beanpole, courtesy Kino Lorber
[2] Viktoria Miroshnichenko and Timofey Glazkov in a scene from Beanpole, courtesy Kino Lorber
[3] Viktoria Miroshnichenko and Vasilisa Perelygina in a scene from Beanpole, courtesy Kino Lorber

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