This was a harrowing and really difficult drama for the Russian Oscar nominee, and he won “Unclenching the Fists” and the award for best film in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival in 2021. The film takes place in a former mining town in the Russian province of North Ossetia, located in the Caucasus, an area where wars between the Russian state and Chechen separatists were fought in the 1990s. The situation today seems calm, and the focus of Kira Kovalenko’s film is a girl named Ada (Milana Aguzarova). She seems to be in her twenties, living with her mentally retarded younger brother Dakko and a strict father who is extremely protective of her.
From the beginning, Ada seems kind of scared, scared (we’ll find out later and why), and very soon it will become clear to us that the relationships in this family are quite strange. Until I realized that Dakko was her younger brother, it seemed to me that he, too, was one in a series of Caucasian hilbils trying to propose to her, and Ada’s silent and cruel father constantly locked her in the apartment. And when he goes to work in a nearby store, she is under his strict control, and almost all the male characters there act somehow aggressive, wild. Ada dreams of escaping from her sick environment, but at the same time she seems afraid to leave her father and younger brother, and her desire to leave will increase when her older brother Arik, who normally lives and works in Rostov, arrives home. This gallery of male characters that Ada is surrounded by is completed by a young man named Tamik, who is obviously in love with her and is trying to seduce her.
Kovalenko pointed out that she found the inspiration for this story in Italian neorealism, especially Vittorio de Sici, and the title of the film is actually a reference to Marco Bellochi’s neorealist twisted classic “Fists in the Pocket”. And in that film, we had one dysfunctional family in which one of its members tries to escape from the firm grip of the family, and it turns into a complete disaster. Here, a completely authentic flair is added to that realism, because apart from the acting student who embodied Ada and whose debut it was, the locals were hired for all other roles, for whom this was their first contact with the film. We will realize after a while that Ada is indeed hiding a repressed trauma that obviously has its roots in the war period, and this is another in a series of recent films exploring the position of women in patriarchal, primitive and backward society. Rating 6.5 / 10.
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