Kitoboy (The Whaler Boy)
Apparently, it’s possible to cross the Bering Strait from Russia to the United States in about four hours, using nothing more than a tiny fishing boat. This is a fact that is dangled, rather tantalisingly, in front of the titular whaler boy’s face. Perhaps a quest to meet the American webcam model he’s obsessed with is in order?
Leshka (Vladimir Onokhov) is a young man living in an isolated whaling community on Russia’s Chukotka Peninsula. Randomly encountering an online sex show, he gradually becomes besotted with one of the models, Hollysweet_999 (or the Girl from America, as the end credits list her, played by Kristina Asmus). Leshka talks to her image on the screen like an awkward first date, diligently learning English for the day when they will finally meet and she will become his wife (or he will become her wife, due to some gender confusion in his English lessons). Enchantment turns to obsession, and Leshka sets out on a journey that isn’t quite as intriguing or transformative as it hopes to be.
The speed with which Leshka’s obsession escalates (culminating in a ferocious act of violence) is the key issue with director Philipp Yuryev’s entry at this year’s Venice International Film Festival. Although this escalation thrusts the narrative into its third act, there’s something inauthentic about the way the story suddenly intensifies. Drastic close-ups of Hollysweet_999 in all her pixellated glory plainly illustrate Leshka’s distorted view of his relationship with someone on the internet (who doesn’t know he exists), so breadcrumbs have been laid, but the abruptness of certain sequences can be unnaturally jarring.
It feels as though these plot issues could have been remedied with a slight sharpening of the narrative, and it’s not like the gentle meandering nature of the film would have been compromised. Onokhov gives a measured, honest performance, with some tender comic relief from Nikolay Tatato as his grandfather. Even though it might not live up to its initial promise, Kitoboy is a quietly absorbing story from a part of the world that’s rarely seen on screen.
Kitoboy (The Whaler Boy) does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Venice Film Festival 2020 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Venice Film Festival website here.
Watch the trailer for Kitoboy (The Whaler Boy) here: