The withering grip of the patriarchy pervades Kira Kovalenko's Cannes Un Certain Regard-winning tale of a young woman coming of age within a suffocating family in Russia’s desolate North Caucasus.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2021
“Set in the industrial town of Mizur the North Caucasus, writer-director Kira Kovalenko’s Unclenching the Fists follows the trail of sorrow left behind by a young girl, Ada (Milana Aguzarova), trying to escape the grip of her domineering father (Alik Karaev). The ailing man hides Ada’s passport from her, forces her to keep her hair short, and mostly locks her inside their apartment with her younger brother, Dakko (Khetag Bibilov), who treats her as something between a mother and a love interest... the possibility of Ada’s escape rests, figuratively and literally, on the shoulders of her older brother, Akim (Soslan Khugaev), who’s managed to leave the household and find work in another town...” — Diego Semerene, Slant
“Unclenching the Fists... had a dream debut at July’s Cannes Film Festival, where it scored both a multi-territory distribution deal... and the top prize in the Un Certain Regard section. It’s not hard to see what may have drawn jury president Andrea Arnold to Kovalenko’s film – which, not unlike Arnold’s masterpiece Fish Tank, steers a young, release-seeking female protagonist with a restless mobile camera and a keen eye for light and beauty amid urban rubble... Kovalenko’s... frank, unfiltered feminist perspective distinguishes it from output – as her camera cuts a kinetic, untidy path through a society of variously oppressive menfolk... Among the film’s many vivid images, it’s the glaring violet of her winter jacket that lingers, or the plasticky jewel tone of a rearview mirror ornament, dangling before a barren road to nowhere.” —Guy Lodge, Variety