In June I reviewed a Danish film called "You Are Not Alone The Italian (a Russian film) shares some of the same emotional impact, even if the subject matter is different.
Vanya lives in a crumbling orphanage and is set to be adopted by an Italian couple (which is why his friends start calling him Italian). Shortly after this, a woman shows up to reclaim her son—something that had never happened before—but he had already been adopted. The director of the orphanage called her every name in the book because she abandoned the boy years before. This makes Vanya very curious about where he came from; before this he seems to be like most of the kids he shares space with, he just assumed he had always been there and, were it not for the Italians, would still be. He enlists the help of a young prostitute who hangs around with the older boys who keep the orphanage running, basically. She helps him learn to read so he can break into the safe, find his file, and find out where his mother lived.
From here it is an adventure he is forced to deal with on his own. He is only 6 but is able to use natural charm and tactics learned at the orphanage to make his way. How this comes about and what happens next . . . well you have to watch it for that.
Kolya Spiridonov plays Vanya. He carries an emotionally difficult film in a way similar to Haley Joe Osment at his best. This alone is reason enough to watch the film. The rest of the cast supports him and they do not stand in the way of a brilliant, what seems natural, talent.
You Are Not Alone is an idyll at a boys’ school where kids who are almost on the fringe make a world for themselves that is entirely supportive, no questions asked. One of the themes is how the children and teens make this world work for them. The orphanage does the same thing, but out of a different kind of necessity. These are the abandoned, not the troubled. The main difference between them is cultural. Denmark is a kinder nation generally; a slightly crumbling (or nearly totally crumbling) section of Russia is less kind. But the emotional panoply is almost identical.
It is nearly impossible to ignore the plight of a child who learned to read by a teen prostitute and makes his way based on wiles like that. However, what happened to me was nothing at all to do with pity but with a strange feeling of pride for him. This investment is much harder to swallow than pity and it lasts longer, but in a good way.
The women he meets are almost universally kind and the males almost universally threatening. I got the impression this was more a storytelling trick than a mark of culture. While the women were kind, they were not always helpful and while the males were threatening, they were not always cruel. What Vanya has to decide each time he meets someone is first, “can I trust” then “how much can I trust?”
Here is where another, more famous, story comes to bare: Oliver Twist. Vanya is a confidant in the gray/side business that the older boys run (they go to gas stations and clean various parts of cars). This plays out like Oliver Twist in that there is a level of camaraderie among the dispossessed, but the main difference is there is no central Fagan in The Italian. The older boys take care of Vanya but there is also the constant threat that the one who controls the money will at least beat someone who holds back money (as Vanya discovers for himself). There is no doubt from a storytelling point of view that this child learned far more from that complex relationship than from anything else. And it is this that helped him on his way.
This is a very rare review for me in that I didn’t have to block off a section for plot spoilers. It’s been about two months since I’ve seen a film like this one. I would rather not wait another two months for the next one.
What did you think of this review?