Screened as part of NZIFF 2015
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Veteran Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky was named Best Director at Venice last September for this uncannily affecting semi-documentary portrait of everyday life on a tiny island community in the remote northwest of Russia. It is summer, the sun never sets, and the sparsely inhabited wilderness of lake, forest and grassland is lush and placid. Our guide is Lyokha the postman, unmarried at 60 but still hopeful, as he runs his speedboat to pick up mail from the mainland and then deliver it to his far-flung customers. Lyokha plays de facto babysitter to young Timur but that doesn’t mean boo to the boy’s bored and restless mother, Irina. She can’t get out of this backwater fast enough.
Little happens – there’s a visit to a nearby ‘spaceport’, a work crisis that nearly drives Lyokha back to that ‘damned vodka’ that he’s offered at virtually every port of call, and a cat that turns up when he’s sleeping and stares meaningfully in his direction. But in Konchalovsky’s poetic vision mundanity can harbour the sublime and his film pulses with the sheer elation of belonging somewhere. When we’re out on the water with Lyokha gliding through the tranquil, nightless summer, we know how that feels.
“Anton Chekhov wrote with both profound melancholy and droll humor of the erosion of aristocratic Russian society, left behind in a fast-transitioning late 19th-century world. There are faint mirror reflections in the way Konchalovsky casts his tender, contemplative gaze over the opposite end of the social spectrum at the start of the 21st century.” — David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter