The Italian (Итальянец) by director Andrei Kravchuk (Андрей Кравчук) is one of the best and most overlooked Russian films of recent years. Overshadowed by other Russian films of 2005, such as the heavily advertised 9th Company (9 РОТА), this modest movie accomplishes great things through its understated drama, unexpected turns, and sincerity. The film is cited as having been insprired by true events, and Kravchuk takes these factual details and spins a modern-day Dickensian tale. Combined with a brilliant performance by young Kolya Spiridonov (Коля Спиридонов) as Vanya Solntsev, he's crafted a real gem of a film.
The official website describes the movie as follows:
A childless, affluent couple from Italy comes to a provincial Russian children’s home to find a child for adoption. The orphanage is a harsh place, run by two rival internal factions. Alongside the official, adult administration, Alongside the official, adult administration, run by a corrupt headmaster (played by Yuri Itskov) with the help of greedy adoption broker Madam (Maria Kuznetsova), there is a shadow children’s gang operating out of the institution’s boiler room.Untold is this synopsis is what I consider one of the films most important moments - why young Vanya decides to find his mother. Perhaps it is every orphans secret hope, that they may be returned to their family, as if their time in an orphanage were all just a bad dream. What raises this possibility in Vanya's mind is the return of the mother of one of the most recently adopted orphans.
When the Italian couple singles out six-year-old ragamuffin Vanya Solntsev (Kolya Spiridonov) as their prospective choice, the other orphans give Vanya a new nickname: The Italian. They envy Vanya, imagining that he is destined for a life of ease in sunny Italy. But seeing that the older children must resort to stealing or prostitution in order to survive, plucky little Vanya has other plans. He decides to track down his birth mother, teaching himself to read in order to learn her address from his personal file locked in the home’s office. After stealing his records, Vanya sneaks out of the orphanage and boards a commuter train headed for the city, with the orphanage staff and police in close pursuit. Fearing that Vanya will make them lose a very lucrative adoption deal, the orphanage headmaster joins forces with Madam to find the runaway child by any means necessary.
After the young woman is pushed out the door of the orphanage, Vanya walks over to talk with her on a bench while she waits for a bus. She is crying and has questions about her son, the baby she gave up some years before. She says that she knows now that he is all that she had in this life and she never should have given him up, that she made a terrible mistake.
The next day we learn that she was hit by a train, an apparent suicide. This idea, that Vanya's mother made a mistake, and that she actually might need him changes his course and sets him on determined journey to find her. Along his journey, he faces many obstacles and unexpected help from those who recognize his dream can not be dismissed.
In a sense, The Italian is a patriotic film. It doesn't depict life in Russia as being easy. In fact, it is dirty, cold, and cruel and the orphans grow up at a remarkably young age. However, it suggests that Russians should take care of their own and that no one can love you more than your own flesh and blood.
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