ROADS TO KOKTEBEL (2003)
Its not surprising to learn that Roads to Koktebel, the debut feature of two young Russian filmmakers, Boris Khlebnikov and Alexei Popogrebsky, has played at numerous film festivals around the world since its premiere a couple of year ago, winning many awards during its run. While the film isnt remarkable in any way, its straight-forward, understated approach is quite appealing. But Im sure a few people have overstated their case after discovering some correlation between the bleak landscapes found in Roads to Koktebel and the ones omnipresent in the works of Tarkovsky and Sokurov.
The film deals with a father (Igor Csernyevics) and his precocious 11-year-old son (Gleb Puskepalis) trying to reach a town called Koktebel, which is in Crimea near the Black sea. We gradually discover that theyve started from Moscow on foot because of necessity, and need to see the boys aunt once they reach their destination. Along the way, they come across individuals usually found in movie road trips: a good-hearted station master, a duplicitous old man, a lonely nurse etc. But interestingly enough, the father, who initially came across as a responsible individual, slowly succumbs to booze (his possible problem before the trip started), and gets smitten with a woman, forcing the boy to make his own decisions.
Along with being a well-acted and beautifully shot effort, Roads to Koktebel is also expertly crafted and sustained tonally, something not usually seen in debut features. There isnt much dialogue; most of the action is interpreted from gestures and expressions. A couple of characters early on in the film couldve been employed more meaningfully, including a teenage girl, however, the filmmakers do spend as much time as possible with their protagonists, allowing us to grasp their developing relationship. The metaphysical contortions in the narrative are extraneous, but the film makes up for them during the final sequence which is fierce and brazenly alive.
*ROADS TO KOKTEBEL was released on DVD in August by Film Movement.