Friday, April 13, 2007


THE ISLAND and THE MONASTERY make an ideal double feature. By pure serendipity I viewed THE ISLAND the day after I saw and wrote about THE MONASTERY (see 4/11 post). Part Tarkovsky, part early-Bergman, Pavel Lounguine (THE WEDDING, 2000; TAXI BLUES, 1990)’s stunningly beautiful film takes place in Northern Russia on a minuscule island in the White Sea. In a prologue, set in 1942, a half-mad young soldier is forced by Nazis to murder his commander, in exchange for his own life. Thirty-four years into the future we find the same man––now bearded and bedraggled in a tattered ebony monk’s robe––living the punitive life of a hermit in a Russian Orthodox monastery on his eternal quest for redemption. Father Anatoly (as he is now known) divides his time between performing the Sisyphean task of shoveling coal into the monastery’s insatiable fiery boiler, and dealing with pilgrims who consider him a holy man and seer, and bring their troubles and injured children to him for healing. The director wavers back-and-forth, leaving us to decide: is Anatoly a lunatic or a saint? In an interview, Lounguine says, “This is a film about the fact that God exists. There comes a time in life when this becomes an important issue. Besides, I am trying to open up new genres in film, in this case the genre of the lives of saints.” Apparently, the lead actor Pytor Mamonov (a well-loved former Russian rock-and-roll star, of all things) “changed” after portraying Father Anatoly. Mamonov (who resembles a genuine madman, German actor and Werner Herzog-alter ego, Klaus Kinski) said that he now “felt an enlightened quietness.”

In these consumer-driven, individualistic, even apocalyptic times, Lounguine’s parable considers our most profound concerns: the existence of God, personal and collective guilt, responsibility to each other, the possibility of redemption.

Russia, 2006, 112 min.
Dir. Pavel Lounguine
Scr. Dmitry Sobelev

Sat., April 28 4:15 Kabuki
Weds., May 2 6:45 Kabuki
Thurs., May 3 3:30 Kabuki


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