Father and Son (Russia/Germany/Italy/Netherlands; 97 min.)

directed by: Aleksandr Sokurov
starring: Andrei Shchetinin; Aleksei Nejmyshev
Otets i Syn

Bruce says: "FATHER AND SON opens with a close-up of two men, one holding the other. There are no immediate clues but as the scene unfolds we learn that it is a father and his son, who is having a nightmare. The father gently nurses the son out of his frightened state into semi-awareness. The scene is so tender, my immediate frame of reference was that of Madonna and child. No male to male relationship has ever been presented on film in such purely simple terms. When we talk of mother’s love we have a vision of an absolute love free from judgment and prejudice. Could it be that a male, a single parent, could also embody that same spirit? Suddenly I notice that the son is practically a full grown man and it occurs that the scene may be homoerotic. Now I am truly confused.

" Filmed mostly in shadow and hazy twilight, FATHER AND SON has a mood all its own. That mood is the film; there is little or no plot. Every few seconds I had a new question about the relationships of the characters, what really happened, how history played a role in current behavior; yet, none of those questions were answered. Usually that bothers me, having stacks of unanswered questions. In this film, it adds to the pleasure. There are many things here we see and experience; little we need to have explained.

" The apartment where the father (Andrei Shchetinin) and the son Aleksei (Aleksei Nejmyshev) live is a top floor apartment opening onto a complex set of adjoining roofs. A flat plank connects their window ledge to the building next door. The plank bends and creaks as the two leap out of the apartment crossing over empty space to the adjacent roof. They wrestle in the open air, innocent laughter echoing across the rooftops. The two seem like schoolboys, like brothers cavorting, kicking their soccer ball home from school. That impression is not unseemly since the father was 'not yet twenty' when his son was born.

" Aleksei also has a close friend named Sasha (Aleksandr Razbash) who lives next door. Because of the intimacy he shares with his father, Aleksei is quite physically demonstrative with Sasha as well. Another hint of homoeroticism. Aleksei has a girlfriend who is confused by his relationship to his father. She says, 'You are afraid that your father thinks he’s a bother. You take his side.' Aleksei replies, 'Why can’t I love both of you?'

"At one point Aleksei confronts his father, 'You know what the saints say about a father’s love. A father’s love crucifies.' One day the inevitable will happen; Aleksei will fall in love and leave his father with an empty nest. Wary of that moment, Aleksei asks his father to consider remarrying.

" One night the father prepares dinner only to discover Aleksei has eaten earlier at the military barracks where he works and studies medicine. The two men exchange glances of love, anger, hurt, frustration, guilt and disappointment that could be the secret language of father and son, brothers, lovers or lifelong friends. We sense their integrity, their camaraderie, their decency and their love; we really don’t need the details.

" Sokurov achieved fame with his RUSSIAN ARK. FATHER AND SON is the middle film of a trilogy that began with MOTHER AND SON (1997) and will conclude with TWO BROTHERS AND A SISTER. Andrey Sigle is responsible for the music, heavily influenced by Tchaikovsky, which fully captures the mood of the film. FATHER AND SON was filmed in Lisbon, a strange double for St. Petersburg. 4 cats"

Michael says: "Aleksandr Sokurov's gorgeous FATHER AND SON is a perplexing film. We four who saw it were all scratching our heads upon its completion, wondering about the dialogue which seemed laden with meaning, yet strangely obtuse. Sokurov is a master of artistry (see his last film, RUSSIAN ARK) and it shows here. The cinematography in FATHER AND SON is beautiful, gauzy light dripping with sensuality and dreamlike haziness.

"As you might guess, FATHER AND SON tells the tale of a young father (between 35 - 40 years old) and his twenty-year old son. One would think that a story of a loving father/son relationship would not be laced with the tension of a Michael Haneke film, but surprisingly, that's what I felt as I watched these two men gaze into each other's eyes, their faces inches apart, the golden light playing over their handsome features... well, you see where I'm going. The underlying tone of homoerotic sensuality is fabulously uncomfortable, yet Sokurov keeps it innocent, burying anything suggestive in subtext. It's all symbolic anyway... and it's a symbolism that's not too easy to decipher. Sure, there's a lot about relationships, the closeness that gradually leads to loneliness as the relationship withers and eventually ends. A line that seems to have a lot of meaning in the film, 'a father's love crucifices a loving son,' is referenced several times. Perhaps there is something about a son's living up to the powerful parental
love of a father... that it requires sacrifice as the parent grows older... something hinting at adult children caring for their aging parents?

"In FATHER AND SON it's all told in dreams, and the two dreams that frame the film are gorgeous and poignant. The sound is dreamlike... and slightly disturbing as well, with conversations from neighboring apartments heard in the background, and a radio that doesn't seem to be able to broadcast any stations clearly, without the hum of static. The more I think about FATHER AND SON, the more I like it. The pace is luxuriously slow, and some might find it boring, but between the beauty and the discomfort I felt, it added up to a positive film experience. 4 cats"

Thom says: "OK, the year is still quite young, but FATHER & SON is clearly my favorite film of 2005 so far. I wasn’t all that fond of his RUSSIAN ARK, although I would be hard pressed to say that I didn’t admire it for its one long take feature. So, with my well-known aversion to Russian films, I wasn’t expecting much. But after this I will seek out other films by Sokurov, as he is on his way to being a great talent. As Bruce and Michael have both gone extensively into the non-narrative aspects of the film, I can only express my feelings over what transpires. From what I’ve been lead to believe Sokurov disdains the opinion that his film is homoerotic, but it is particularly hard for me to believe that he does not see this. In choosing his two stars (Andrei Shchetinin & Aleksei Nejmyshev) he had to realize that anyone in their right mind would be drooling over these two gorgeous men. In having the film open with the two of them entwined, naked, on a bed, it is an incredible stretch to claim that they only have a nonsexual love for each other. It is quite clear that they are very dependent on each other for an uneasy well-being. It is also clear that their dependency is very unnatural. It would be easy to pass it off as a Russian thing, so I decided to take a small survey amongst my three Russian pals, who grew up in Russia. The two men said that they had never heard of such physical closeness between father & son. The one who has two boys of his own seemed aghast when I asked him if he had that type of physicality with his sons. The Russian woman had actually seen the film, and she says that the film can not be interpreted as anything other than homoerotic. Well, the enigma of the film remains. But, after all is said and done, this film is of uncommon beauty with a hazy, dreamy quality that fills every frame of its transcendence. Having spent a week in Lisbon, it was a special treat to see the city used so beautifully. I can’t wait to see this film again, as its mysteriousness has me in a perplexed feeling of luxury and grace. 5 CATS