Marianna Neal’s review published on Letterboxd:
I need to sit with this one for a while, a lot to unpack here.
Will revisit this review later.
UPDATE: it's later
There are things I love about this film, and things I just don't think worked as well as it was intended. Perhaps, my expectations worked against me - when I heard that Svetlana Alexievich's The Unwomanly Face of War was the inspiration behind this, my experience of reading that book came rushing forward in my mind. Beanpole certainly explores the female post-war perspective, but the extremely slow dialogue delivery stretches the runtime instead of filling it with more depth. It also does little to highlight how the society viewed women of war, which is something Alexievich presents as one of the main themes of her work.
I think the intentions were great here, and let's be honest, this is an absolutely gorgeous looking film with insanely great performances. It's the type of story that doesn't get told very often. But it also leaves a lot of what it touches on underdeveloped, leaving those things at the "here's a concept" stage.
What's absolutely clear though is that Balagov is a director to watch, and a very strong, interesting emerging voice in Russian cinema.
Perhaps, my biggest issue with this film is the way it treated the death of a child. The incident is ONLY used to set up conflict later on, and that's ridiculous. This is WAY too major of an event to use as casual setup. What's even more mind-boggling is that the mother barely has a reaction. Mind you, this is a character who is OBSESSED with having a child for the rest of the film. And yet when she hears what happens she just continues with her life? Now, I guess you COULD explain it away with this being a common occurrence at the time - the atrocities of war, the lack of food, people died all the time. But she has a stronger emotional reaction to about everything else in this film, and that's... wow... The incident itself was a horrible scene to watch, and just to sweep it under the rug as an early plot point feels so wrong.