The long history of Russian directors who have confronted the ravages of war ranges from Andrei Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood to Mikhail Kalatozov’s The Cranes are Flying. Like these films, Kantemir Balagov’s Beanpole is set during World War II.
Beanpole, which is available on MUBI, has been inspired by the Nobel Prize-winning writer Svetlana Alexievich’s novel War’s Unwomanly Face. The film revolves around two deeply damaged women.
Both of them have served on the front. One of them has been discharged after developing a condition that renders her immobile for short periods. The other has a nose bleed and psychological scars that show up in her intense manner and unnerving smile.
They meet again in Saint Petersburg, as the war trundles to a close. Iya is the “beanpole” of the title – so tall that she towers everyone else in the crammed tram that she takes every day and the hospital where she works as a nurse. Despite being impossible to ignore, Iya – modest, reserved, eager to please – would rather blend into her surroundings.
Iya has been fostering Masha’s son Pashka. But when Masha turns up one day, Pashka is nowhere to be seen.
Masha’s reaction is to seek the nearest dance hall. The fates of the women, guided by circumstance and a power dynamic…