Father and Son

Alexander Sokurov’s “Father and Son,” his second part to a proposed trilogy that began with 1997’s “Mother and Son,” doesn’t so much push the boundaries of cinema as immerse itself in its deepest, most subliminal, depths. Like its predecessor, “Father and Son” takes, as its hook, the tortured dynamics of the parent-child relationship. Here, a son’s bond with his father is strained by his desire to depart and create his own life. The son, however, must first reconcile with his resentment over his motherless childhood and his grudging loyalty to his father.

In Sokurov’s hands, these characters feel as light as air, as if summoned by the storyteller from some vague dream. Indeed, what makes his movie so appealing, even thrilling, is how he breathes cinema into each frame, and invokes a sense of otherworldliness. In a literal sense, “Father and Son’s” message has no particular weight, but, as cinema, it echoes its yearnings by appealing to some darkly sensitive corner of our minds stimulated only in deep sleep.

Alexander Burov’s ethereal cinematography places us in a rooftop flat in an unspecified European port city. Here, a widower (Andrey Schetinin) shares an especially strong bond with his teenage son (Aleksey Neymyshev). The father has never healed from the long-ago death of his wife, a woman who still holds sway over his heart. The son, meanwhile, struggles with nightmares of killing his father (as Oedipal a hint as you’ll ever get), and with committing to a local girl.

The father dotes over him and beams with pride as his son, following in his footsteps, goes through the rigors of his military schooling. He senses, though, that their separation is inevitable and that he must overcome his mourning and renew his life with another woman. Hence, the two find themselves on the brink of daunting changes, something Sokurov physicalizes by placing their drama on the precarious roofs and ledge-spanning planks of their apartment house.

Throughout the movie, one son or another questions his father’s authority or else a father’s memory haunts the son. For instance, the son’s friend — in one of the most rapturous sequences to appear in any movie — wonders why his father divorced his mother, why he took to alcoholism and abandoned them. The sequence is steeped in the movie’s trademark amber glow and in the hushed sounds of the tram, the city’s cobbled streets and a muted mix of electronic and classical strains, underscoring the movie’s theme of generational collision. It’s a moment that makes you take notice of how, with lyrical precision, a movie’s visuals and sounds can make it sensually transcendent.

“Father and Son” is a cinematic tone poem that, for all its pleasures, can also be frustratingly obtuse. The tension and reconciliation between the father and son are never conveyed pointedly enough to move us because Sokurov is too preoccupied with how to merely insinuate meaning from the gentle drift of his story. The movie, hence, skips and floats in the shallows without ever boldly speaking its mind. Never mind, though, because Sokurov is too seductive a fabulist for conventional nit-picking. His movie is so physically rich and alive that, for a hit of pure cinema, you could no better in this blunt-edged summer-movie season than to spend a few moments reveling in its high.

Grade: A-

Directed by: Aleksandr Sokurov
Written by: Sergei Potepalov
Written: Andrei Shchetinin, Aleksei Neymyshv, Alksandr Razbash, Fyodor Lavrov, Marina Zusukhina

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