A Russian Youth
There’s an interesting concept in this MUBI exclusive that doesn’t quite transcend obfuscation. Alexandr Zolotukhin’s A Russian Youth is a tale of two people: a fictional tale of a blind Russian soldier who continues serving on the frontline by becoming the army’s listener-in and the documented experience of the film’s orchestral team as they design the score around this First World War scenario. Switching back and forth between the constructed narrative and footage of the modern orchestra, A Russian Youth follows the French New Wave of deconstructing the filmmaking process but to no legitimate effect.
Credit where credit is due: at the very least, the hybrid gimmick draws the audience in early and activates our cerebral cortex to start working overtime, helping us to decipher what we’re experiencing as we navigate the stark contrast between the hip instrumentalists responding in real time to the film content and the vintage grainy film stock that gives the performative element a coating from a bygone, beloved era of cinema. A Russian Youth looks good and sounds good, but I’m not convinced it does any good.
The film could’ve been an interesting odyssey of a blind soldier trying to contribute in the Great War but suffering when put through the ringer by callous comrades, in addition to cautiously navigating the perils of enemy bombardment. Yet, even without the distraction of watching composers embellish the horrible scenario with grace, the story is just too hollow. The viewers most likely to catch A Russian Youth may be reminded of two filmmakers when watching it because of the formal and narrative similarities. The first is Elem Klimov, who made the greatest film about a Russian youth on the frontlines with Come and See. The second is Aleksandr Sokurov, a mentor of Zolotukhin, who’s pushed aesthetic boundaries with his work, most notably in Russian Ark. For most viewers, we would recommend seeking their works out instead. But the most dedicated cinephiles may be up to the task of trying to unlock the potential of A Russian Youth.
A Russian Youth is released digitally on demand on 30th April 2020.
Watch the trailer for A Russian Youth here: