Beanpole ★★★★½

In 1943, Paramount Pictures release So Proudly We Hail!, an American war film that follows the Angels of Bataan, a group of nurses sent to the Philippines during the early days of WWII. In one scene, Japanese soldiers are advancing onto their unit, everyone is urged to flee but one nurse stays behind. She walks towards the Japanese, grenade in hand, and pulls the pin. Her fellow nurses watch in horror. Films about women in combat, the brutality they endured and its emotional toll on them, are rare. The heroes of war, those who sacrificed themselves for freedom, and those we give remembrance to, often only have a male face. There’s a female face to war, one that So Proudly We Hail! shows in combat, and one that Beanpole shows in war’s aftermath. At just 28-years-old, Russian director Kantemir Balagov has established himself as one of the year’s best directors. Inspired by Svetlana Alexievich’s The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II, the Cannes award winner, Beanpole, marks only the second feature film for the director, and the first for its equally talented cast. 

It’s 1945, the first autumn after the war, in a broken Leningrad. While the war is over, the city and its people have yet to find peace. “I’m not a person anymore,” one soldier says. It’s a city and a population torn in another war, one of physical and mental cruelty, as life and death continue their battle. Food is scarce and the poor live in communes. Leningrad’s streets are bustling with women, who now have the city’s survival on their shoulders as their men lay in hospital. Those soldiers have lost limbs, they’re paralyzed, and some won’t survive. While it may not mean death, everyone has lost their lives in some way, and Beanpole shows the desperate lengths people will go through to get back any kind of peace and normality. There’s a tug and pull of both hope and hopelessness for the film’s protagonists, Iya and Masha, two friends trying to rebuild their lives and overcome their trauma. Everyone surrounded by death is certain to have some kind of PTSD. If you google “PTSD” and “soldier,” though, the images seen are primarily of men. While Balagov’s film does strike a balance between giving male soldiers their due, as both Iya and Masha work in a hospital, his main focus is on female trauma.


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