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Screen Scene: The Italian

By Brian Segna

Jan. 18, 2007 9:00 p.m.

“The Italian”

Director Andrei Kravchuk

Sony Pictures Classiscs

Andrei Kravchuk spent over a year scouring orphanages across
Russia in search of the troubled environment needed to be true to
the stories he had seen and read about. He handpicked real-life
orphans for most of his film’s cast. And he even met with the
real-life families and workers to discuss the process that had
illegally placed many Russian children in the homes of Italian
families.

It was this dedication to the authenticity of the story that
makes the Russian filmmaker’s feature directorial debut,
“The Italian,” such a real and poignant representation
of the hardships faced by orphans put up for illegal adoption in
modern-day Russia.

“It was very important to observe the children, not to
force them into our storyline,” said Karvchuk in a press
release.

“The Italian,” the official Russian entry for the
Academy Awards, tells the story of a 5-year-old boy, Vanya Solntsev
(Kolya Spiridonov) who escapes a Russian orphanage to go in search
of his biological mother. After being nicknamed “The
Italian” by other children when an Italian couple selects for
adoption, Vanya decides that instead of moving with his new
parents, he must find a way to break free. He overcomes the
underground network of power among the children controlling the
orphanage and convinces an older girl to teach him to read. He
breaks into the secret files to find out more about his past, and
begins a difficult trip, running from the authorities in search of
his mother.

Kravchuk is certainly successful in genuinely capturing the
stories that have become more and more common throughout Russia.
But it is Spiridonov, a first-time actor, who emotionally attaches
viewers to the story. His ability to move and deliver lines with
the innocence, charm and undeterred determination of the character
is, at such a young age, truly remarkable.

The downfall to the 90-minute film lies in its lack of
complexity. The acting, writing and directing of the film are all
done well, but the story itself is fairly flat. The viewer is
certainly emotionally invested in Vanya, but the story becomes
predictable and overly simple, and concludes with little
payoff.

“The Italian” is no doubt an impressive first effort
by both Kravchuk and Spiridonov. It is a compelling, powerful, and
insightful story about the real lives of many Russian orphans, but
it’s certainly not in the running for Best Foreign Film of
the year.

E-mail Segna at [email protected]

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