Dir. Aleksandr Sokurov, 2003
Cast: Andrei Shetinin, Alexei Nejmyshev, Marina Zashukina
The timeline of Russian filmmaking is littered with maverick filmmakers who've worked following their own singular voices and visions. Having defied cinematic convention with his previous feature, the amazing Russian Ark, (a film shot in one continuous take) Russian filmmaker Aleksandr Sukorov turns his unconventional eye towards an intense portrayal of a unique father/son relationship.
In Father and Son, father (Andrei Shetinin) and his son (Alexei Nejmyshev) live together in a rooftop apartment that is shut away from the rest of the world. Sharing a closeness that is somewhat unnatural, the two appear at times to be more lovers than family. Like his father before him, Alexei attends military school and attempts to maintain a relationship with his girlfriend (Marina Zashukina) who is jealous of the intimate relationship Alexei shares with his grieving father, who sees his son as a final link to his dead wife. Alexei wants independence, to progress and to move on with his life and believes his father should too. As he says to his father: "A father's love crucifies, and a loyal son accepts crucifixion".
Sukorov has himself admitted that the relationship between father and son as depicted in this film could not happen in reality and for this reason the film plays more as fable, a poetic musing on the nature of the father/son bond. Clearly he's passionate about the subject, focusing on the fundamentally human: the body language, the long silences, lyrical and poetic dialogue all coupled with 'permanent sunset' lighting. The films various facets demonstrate an attempt to create a mindscape, to forge an unreality in which to place the characters, as they muse on the intimate nature of their relationship. Whilst for the most part it achieves this, the feeling of voyeuristic intrusion as an audience member is ever present, eventually collapsing into tedium once the ability to emotionally engage has long since past.
Ultimately, the cinematography's amber hues and glinting sunlight lends the film a plastic sentimentality, a golden romantic cliche. The opening scene features the (apparently) naked father comforting his son after a nightmare and makes a fatal misstep: unintentionally setting up a non-existent homoerotic subtext not helped by the fact that the two actors appear only a few years apart in age and spend a majority of their time shirtless, all despite the director dismissing this homoerotic subtext as a product of degenerate western minds.
Sadly, it may be the product of diseased minds but at least it wouldn't have been so unengaging. Never have I felt a foreign filmmaker being so desperately avant garde. This is a drifting, relatively plotless, character driven piece in the strongest sense. Beat your head against this film long enough and it's possible your mind will eventually wrap around it but for this seasoned reviewer it was diffcult to consume and even harder to digest.