Kantemir Balagov

7.2 Tesnota/ Closeness (2017)
7.3 Dilda/ Beanpole (2019)

Kantemir Balagov (Russia, 1991) debuted with Closeness (2017), a claustrophobic portrait of a Jewish community.

Dylda/ Beanpole (2019), set after the end of World War II, photographed by Ksenia Sereda in a style reminiscent of 16th and 17th century Dutch/Flemish paintings, is a psychological and realist drama in the great Russian literary tradition of Tolstoy and Gorkij.

Iya, nicknamed "Beanpole", is a nurse in a military hospital where wounded soldiers are recovering after the end of World War II. Her superior, the doctor Nikolaj, examines a soldier, Stepan, who is paralyzed and can't feel anything. Nikolaj tells her to take the rations of a dead soldier: he knows that she's struggling to raise her child Pashka. She pays a woman to watch him while she works. They live in a crowded building, where an old man flirts with her. She takes Pashka to the hospital to play with the soldiers that treat him like a mascotte, notably a cheerful Stepan. Iya has a psychological disease, a trauma caused by the horrors of the war: she occasionally freezes. It happens while she is hugging the baby on the floor and she doesn't realize that she kills him. The film fast forwards to an evening when she returns home and locks her door after finding a suitcase by her doorstep. A woman, wearing a uniform and war medals, knocks and asks for her but Iya doesn't open. The woman, Masha, is happy to see her but Iya stares at her silently. Masha asks to see Pashka but Iya doesn't reply. Masha brought gifts for Pashka, whom she calls "her" child: Masha was Pashka's mother and, before leaving for the front, left him with her best friend Iya. Finally Masha senses from Iya's silence that the child is dead, and Iya lies that he died in his sleep. Masha doesn't even she a tear and simply asks her to go dancing. Two young men, one handsome and the other one shy, are driving around and notice them. The girls walk to a dancehall but it's closed. Masha accepts the invitation to join the two strangers. They drink and eat in the car. The handsome one flirts with Iya, and Masha tells Iya to go for a romantic walk with him. Masha and the shy one, Sasha, once alone in the car, throw alcohol at each other and then Masha starts undressing in the back seat of the car. Then she grabs the shy Sasha and pulls him on top of her. The sex is quick and unexciting. Then she thanks him. Iya comes back to the car and beats up the poor Sasha and carries Masha away on her shoulder. Sasha's friend walks back to the car with a broken arm: Iya broke it when he tried to touch her. Later they take a shower with all the other women (dozens of them) and Iya sees that Masha has a scar on her belly: her uterus has been removed. Masha tells Iya that she wants to get pregnant again. Masha applies for a job in Nikolay's hospital. Nikolaj interviews her and accepts her, but she has no medical experience and therefore can only be an attendant. She tells Nikolaj that Iya was fighting in the same group but Iya suffered a traumatic injury and was sent home. A woman walks around the streets looking for the hospital: Stepan's wife. Iya takes her to Stepan's bed. Stepan is not happy to see her. She tells him that they were notified of his death, and he confesses that he wrote it. She tells him that one child died but the other two children are still alive. A female official comes to inspect the hospital. Iya runs into her son, Alexander/Sasha, who is carrying gifts for the soldiers, and later Sasha runs into Masha too, who smiles amused. Masha bleeds from the nose and faints. She tells the doctor that the scar is the result of a bomb. The doctor tells her that she can't get pregnant without the uterus. Masha replies that a miracle could happen. Stepan and his wife come to see the doctor. Stepan doesn't want to go home to his children as a useless paralyzed man. Nikolaj admits that there is no chance of recovery. Stepan asks to be killed, and his wife seconds him. Nikolaj coldly tells the woman to smother him with a pillow, which, of course, she won't do. Masha needs a child to be healed and comes up with a new plan: she wants Iya to have a baby on her behalf. Iya is shocked but Masha insists that Iya lost Pashka and now she owes Masha a child. One evening, as an exhausted Masha went to rest in a bed near Stepan's, Nikolaj gives Iya a pill of morphine to kill Stepan. Iya hesitates and we learn that this is not the first one: she has "helped" soldiers die before. Iya asks Stepan if he really wants to die and then kills him with an overdose of morphine. Only then does Iya realize that Masha has witnessed the whole thing. Masha and Iya share a room. One day the shy Sasha shows up with a gift for Masha. Masha smiles and asks him for more gifts, but doesn't let him in. Nikolaj celebrates New Year's Eve with his staff, including the two girls, and Masha asks to dance with him. Masha tells him the truth about Pashka, that she wants a child from Iya, and that she wants Nikolaj to get Iya pregnant. Nikolaj refuses but she has forced Iya to write a letter in which she confesses the euthanasia, which is a crime. Nikolaj has no choice if he wants to save his career. Back at their place, Masha prepares the bed for them, and Iya, clearly scared of sex, asks her to near her while Nikolaj impregnates from behind. So Iya hugs Masha all the time, and cries, while Nikolaj has sex with her. Sasha keeps bringing gifts to Masha. Masha is happy when she thinks that Iya is pregnant because she's vomiting and her period is late. At the hospital Iya is examined by a female doctor who finds that she is actually not pregnant and mocks the idea that she can get pregnant in just one night. Iya doesn't tell Masha, who keeps being excited about the coming baby. Nikolaj takes sick leave and is replaced by a woman, Olga. One day Sasha comes over to help paint the room, while the old admirer keeps flirting with Iya. One evening Masha suddenly seems to go crazy and Iya kisses her on the mouth to stop her from crying. Masha, repulsed, stops crying but also pushes Iya away, and now Iya freezes, and Masha kisses her to unfreeze her. They both lie on the floor shocked and exhausted. Sasha comes over for dinner. Iya cooks and then, jealous and ashamed, attacks Sasha asking him to leave and never come back with gifts. Masha is taking advantage of the boy, son of a rich official: he provides the food that a pregnant mother needs. Sasha, clearly in love, instead invites Masha to meet his parents. Iya walks to Nikolaj's place and, while he's preparing tea, she starts undressing. She begs him to sleep with her again, confessing that she's not pregnant yet. Nikolaj tells her that he's leaving town and invites her to leave with him. Masha visits Sasha's parents with Iya's permission. They live in a big house surrounded by a large garden. Sasha introduces her as his future wife. His parents are initially speechless, his mother starts interrogating her. Masha tells her all the truth, as embarrassing as it is. Masha confesses that she never fought on the front, she was just working in the barracks. She didn't have just one boyfriend, she had many. She slept with soldiers, looking for the ones who could protect her and providing food. It was the only way to survive. She even confesses that she cannot have children and a friend is having a baby for her. She confesses that the scar on her belly is not the consequence of a bomb but of her many abortions. Sasha's mother tells Masha that she's making a mistake: Sasha is too used to wealth and leisure and will soon get tired of a poor wife. Sasha's mother claims to be protecting her. Sasha gets furious and leaves the room. Masha silently leaves too. She takes the tram to go home. Despite the humiliating meeting, she looks happy. The tram suddenly stops: a woman who looks like Iya lies dead under the wheels, her face unrecognizable. Masha runs home. Iya is there, waiting for her and perhaps ready to leave. Iya confesses that she is not pregnant. Masha doesn't believe her. Masha tells her that Sasha will never come back, and that the two of them will raise the child together. Masha is already dreaming of what the child will look like. Iya smiles. They cry and hug.
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