Winter Journey (2013)
Cast: Aleksandr Alekseevskiy, Mariya Biork, Sergei Dorofeyev
Director: Lubov Lvova, Sergey Taramaev
Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage for the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Making Waves Romanian Film Festival, which runs from December 4 to December 8. For more information visit FilmLinc.com and follow FilmLinc on Twitter at @FilmLinc.
In Lvova and Taramaev’s Winter Journey (2013), parallel stories become one as two seemingly opposite men are brought together by a chance meeting and its consequential events. Eric (Aleksey Frandetti) is an opera singer preparing for the most important audition of his life. Lyoha (Evgeniy Tkachuk) is a petty criminal and vagabond with no one and nothing in his life. The two are extraordinarily different, but each carries the great burden of life which is suffering. Despite their personality differences, the boys are likened in their humanism, their suffering, and their deep yearnings for escape. Though morally divergent, their sense of being human is the same.
A convergence of these two characters is slowly, thoughtfully built throughout the film until its final scene, when Lyoha and Eric are seen sliding down a snowy mountain. Its abstracted form suggests ambiguity; it could either be a real moment between the two boys or it could be a dream, an idea. In either event, the scene is bittersweet. It affirms an equality of spirit between people of differing backgrounds, but it also denies the possibility of a social acceptance of this equality.
Some may consider this a love story between two men who are attracted to and love one another, but truly it is a story of two men being platonically engaged with each other’s sense of self.
This is largely a comment on the general social response to the LGBTQ movement in Europe. The film’s homosexual content, though rather subtle, will offend some viewers. Lvova and Taramaev clearly know this, and their film feeds from a realist interpretation of modern society. Proving their expectation of discord right, the film received a very limited release due to its perceived offensive content. Coming from Russia, it is not difficult to imagine this happening.
But in spite of its perceived homosexual content, Winter Journey is much more a film about humanity at large. While one of the two main characters is a homosexual, the other is most assuredly straight, irrespective of how confused he might seem at times. Some may consider this a love story between two men who are attracted to and love one another, but truly it is a story of two men being platonically engaged with each other’s sense of self. Lyoha is not a homosexual, and his feelings towards Eric are clearly brought on by a lack of love in his life. He has never been loved, and for the first time he is feeling it. He feels that someone cares about him. Confused by this, he shows some signs of homosexuality. This is not because he is homosexual, but because he doesn’t know what to do with his feelings.
It’s about halfway through the film when its themes become clear. A stoned friend at a party talks about secular and religious humanism, explaining that they are really based on the same thing. The foundation is the same, but in one case a person relies on oneself and in another one relies on a greater power. Aspects of being human in either case are no different. This contrast provides context for understanding Eric and Lyoha‘s dueling personalities. One a lover, the other a fighter, and yet a fraternal bond is built between them.
The harsh natural light, often from headlights or fire, creates a burnt orange palette. Its intense and expressionistic nature complement the film’s underlying themes of humanism, fraternity, and social justice.
This bond is driven to some extent by a common love of music. Listening to Eric’s music, Lyoha finds himself entranced first by Schubert and later by Eric, who he affectionately refers to as ’little Schubert’. Throughout the film, diegetic and non-diegetic music weave these characters’ journeys together. In similar form, a free camera weaves through various on-location settings to capture the naturalness of each individual scene. In addition to its penchant for long takes and natural light, the film is truly an instance of Soviet realism.
The harsh natural light, often from headlights or fire, creates a burnt orange palette. Its intense and expressionistic nature complement the film’s underlying themes of humanism, fraternity, and social justice. The warm colours express Lyoha’s fiery anger and Eric’s deep anguish. The cold, snowy winter confines them, entrapping them in a world of malaise. A deeply emotive film, Winter Journey genuinely conveys both the suffering of isolation and the possibility of its escape.
A deeply emotive film, Winter Journey genuinely conveys both the suffering of isolation and the possibility of its escape.