JacolineMaes’s review published on Letterboxd:
Shorter review upon first watch can be found here.
Beanpole is an extremely rich and nuanced story about dealing with war traumas. It focuses on two women: Masha who has just returned from the front and Iya who’s been back in Leningrad for a few years because of injuries which cause catatonic seizures. Iya looks after Masha’s son until she comes back and works as a nurse at a hospital where she cares for the wounded of the war.
Balagov takes his time telling this story and shows an immense array of different kinds of traumas and especially gives a voice to women who have been left out in these kinds of stories so often (he’s based this film on the stories Svetlana Alexievich has written down in The unwomanly face of war). It’s about child loss, about physical traumas, about having to deal with a wounded husband. It’s about carrying on, even when that means having to hurt others to get the only thing that seems to be able to fulfill what you want.
The characters all have their problems and even when they do terrible things, they are never judged. I never felt like hating them for what they do, because the urge and the feeling of suffocating is so strong it is easy to understand how they can see something as the only way out. Which is also because of the way Balagov sketches this world after the war. There’s a constant feeling of emptiness and loss; wallpaper is peeling of, a kid doesn’t seem to know what dogs are, because they have all been eaten and the dead of a child is nothing extraordinary.
I also adore how Beanpole is both a story from a female point of view, but at the same time gender almost feels irrelevant. The women can be strong, the men can be weak, but mostly every human being is both. All the characters are flawed and even the ones with little screentime feel extremely real with their own demons and histories which have formed them into what they are now. These women partially deal with different issues than men, but at the same time they are mostly as damaged human beings and therefore not essentially different. Beanpole thus shows how them being women has made us forget how they have suffered just the same as men. Women are also human beings, but we have so far ignored their stories, since war stereotypically isn’t their domain.
The same goes for the relationships in this movie, they are complex and it would do the movie wrong to just put a simple lable on them. Power dynamics are continuously shifting, because of the information characters obtain or because of the mistakes they make. Doing the right thing can turn out the wrong way and wanting to heal can hurt others. Beanpole is constantly examining all these grey areas and does so by painting a vivid world in greens and reds and a little bit of white.
I will probably see this another time, because of the richness of the story, the beautiful cinematography and the powerhouse acting performances. I can’t wait to see what Balagov will make next and I also hope to see more of actresses Viktoriya Miroshnichenko and Vasilisa Perlygina and cinematographer Kseniya Sereda. If you have the chance and can deal with a slow and intense movies, please see this on the big screen, because it definitely deserves it.