Written by: Kantemir Balagov & Alexander Terekhov
Starring: Viktoria Miroshnichenko, Vasilisa Perelygina, Konstantin Balakirev, Andrey Bykov
Showing love and compassion towards others comes in different forms for folks and may come off as incredibly strange from the outside. That’s where Beanpole likes to keep the audience in the way we are allowed to observe the content of what occurs in this post-war Leningrad hospital. Decadently decorated visually and a truly heart-pounding story, this film gnaws at the audience with its bleakness and tests how much you can handle.
Serving as a nurse for wounded soldiers, Iya Sergueeva (Viktoria Miroshnichenko) cares for a child while also tending to her patients as she suffers from a condition that physically freezes her up for minutes at a time. With the return of her combat partner, Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina), they devise a plan on how to make up for a debt Iya must repay.
With an opening as harrowing as one could ever imagine, Beanpole immediately will ask you whether you are in or out for this story. It begins with a moment of beautiful tenderness followed up with a horrifying tragedy. A combination that will ultimately define the overall story being told in this bleak film. Reuniting Masha and Iya brings a moment of the warmth of two old friends coming together again after having seen terrible things together. It gets highlighted with the tremendous cinematography until a simple question gets asked for Masha. This question not only brings us right back to the opening scene but contextualizes the events that will soon occur. Everything suddenly makes sense and everything kicks off.
The relationship between Masha and Iya can be described as complicated, at best, as different feelings linger between them, including a sense of obligation. What Iya unwillingly did puts her in a strange position with her friend and the way Masha reacts carries airs of strangeness but becomes more fleshed out as the story progresses. It comes off as a bit overboard at times but trying to quantify how to make up for something unwillingly done but still traumatizing comes with its own challenge. While their war friendship and payback becomes integral, the film certainly plays into the idea of there being a romantic connection between them. Whether they can act upon it becomes its own problem, especially in this era of Russia but it strongly sits right on the surface just like their winter coats. This contextualizes the connection they have for each other and what they’re willing to do despite what many would actually do for a friend.
Surrounding all of this drama is sensationally and aggressively excellent production and costume design for these characters. For having such bleakness to its story, Beanpole’s aesthetic carries such vibrancy with the specific use of red and green. Indicating much in the story, including life and pain, it shines like a bright star in the background you cannot look away from when experiencing this story. Rarely did the characters ever match whenever not in uniform, which only further indicates the gulf between them even when the physical distance does not necessarily display it. The stills of this film could be their own painting, including the poster itself, which comes right from a scene in the story. With its variety of textures, adding this color plays such an integral part to the story and proves to be the biggest highlight overall of such a gripping story.
The performance given by Viktoria Miroshnichenko carries a level of stoicness and processing of trauma I could not believe. She harnesses so much with Iya and what she must go through in a physical and mental sense. Her combination with Vasilisa Perelygina makes for such a dynamic pairing. They both take this difficult material and bring life to it to show the complicated aspects of this relationship. They both prove to be excellent in their roles and help co-writer Kantemir Balagov pull off something so moving and heartbreaking all at once.
Beanpole walks a fine line of what the audience can withstand but the story it tells reaches a level of connection many movies can never touch. It falls right in the middle of the complicated lives of these two women in telling the tragedy they endured and what they must do to assume any level of control. It all comes together in such a meaningful and emotionally resonant manner even when it takes its time getting there. An aching relationship but also one tied together by a level of friendship and human connection that cannot be easily replicated.