By Sherrie Li
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The son is a young recruit; the father is a veteran. The war that dare not speak its name in the Russian mind is Afghanistan, or perhaps Chechnya, and the way Sokurov approaches his narrative is just as ambiguous. Like a good visionary, he doesn’t present the action straightforwardly. Rather, the story plays out like a series of short films that begins with the son’s nightmare and culminates in a scene where the father acts out a variation of the same dream. The nightmare, a premonition of separation and loneliness, thus becomes the framework for the entire film. It is the threat of divorce in the father-son relationship that colors every moment of Father and Son with an oppressive pall.
Father and Son is the second film in a proposed trilogy, beginning with the hallucinatory Mother and Son (1997) and ending with Two Brothers and a Sister. When completed, the trilogy promises to be high-minded and obscure, marked by Sokurov’s desire to balance religion and style in his examination of primal family relationships. Profoundly serious, some would say self-serious, Sokurov puts the same premium on images over narrative as his Russian predecessor Andrei Tarkovsky. Never one to allow frivolity to creep into his movies — you sense he thinks that laughter is a kind of cosmic violation — Sokurov strives in his films for atmospheres of hushed sanctimony.
He suffuses Father and Son with a muted light. The colors are soft, the emotions are subdued and the pace is languid, and all the while the emotions of the piece pulse in and out like submerged things coming to light, or visions in a trance. The film takes on the seductive cadence of a religious hymn. At others, Father and Soninspires like the wise, rapturous poetry of John Donne, who managed to equate the sublimations of the soul with the delights of the flesh. The characters wrestle with the ideal of a father’s love that crucifies his son and a loving son who submits himself to crucifixion, and at times, it feels as though Sokurov means for the experience of his movie to be worn as a flagellant’s hair shirt. The tragedy that unfolds in the film is that a father must martyr himself to his son’s need to supplant him, lest his love jeopardize his son’s growth. Sokurov suggests that a father’s love ends in sacrifice, a son’s in self-interest. Father and Son, in its airless, sometimes suffocating way, is his ode to the courage of fathers and sons who surrender, as they must, to the fates that divide them.TWO BROTHERS | Directed by JEAN-JACQUES ANNAUD | Written by ALAIN GODARD and ANNAUD | Produced by ANNAUD and JAKE EBERTS | Released by Universal Pictures | Citywide
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