Aleksey Neymyshev as the son and Andrey Schetinin as the father in Alexander Sokurovs study of male bonding.
Father and Son is the most homoerotic straight film to come along since last years teen horror opus, Jeepers Creepers 2.
The film opens with two men, clad only in their underwear, moaning and groping at each others torsos. Surely, this must be a sex scene. No, the men are father and son, not lovers. The father is trying to comfort his son after a nightmare. Nevertheless, the homoeroticism remains prevalent throughout the movie and theres no question that Father and Son is a love story, even if its characters sexual desire goes sublimated or unexpressed.
After years of being the token Russian director in competition at Cannes, but rarely getting his work distributed in America, Alexander Sokurov scored a minor art house hit with 2002s Russian Ark. A 95-minute tour through the Hermitage, shot on video in a single take, its conventional eleganceas opposed to the unconventional attraction of most other Sokurov filmsundoubtedly helped it win a wider audience. The director has never been much of a storyteller. Russian Ark was no exception, although it compensates for a virtually nonexistent narrative by putting two talkative characters, an unseen stand-in for the director and an 18th century French nobleman, at center stage.
In Father and Son, a father (Andrey Schetinin) and his son, Alexei (Aleksey Neymyshev), live on the top floor of an apartment building. Having been forced to retire from his air force regiment, the father witnesses his son join a military school, where he shows a particular interest in medicine. (He analyzes an X-ray to determine that his father doesnt have lung cancer.) Alexei has a girlfriend, but she becomes competition for his father and eventually leaves him. Going home, he hangs out with Sasha (Alexander Razbash), the son of his fathers missing friend, who wants to move in.
Sokurovs films are generally visually appealing, if larger meanings remain elusive or, at worst, absent. Transported into the medium of film, his borrowings from 19th century painting, most evident in Mother and Son, look avant garde. In Father and Son, he favors washed-out lighting, pale green, yellow, and orange filters and the occasional use of anamorphic lenses to distort images. Like his mentor, the late Andrei Tarkovsky, he devises some uncanny shades of color. However, while Tarkovsky used his fascination with earth, water and fire to hint at larger spiritual concerns, Sokurov seems concerned more with mythological archetypes than with God.
For a film that places so much emphasis on the military, Father and Son is strangely apolitical. The war in which the father fought must have been the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, yet this is never made clear. There are no references to contemporary culture or politics. Tchaikovsky dominates the soundtrack. Shot in St. Petersburg and Lisbon, the two cities seamlessly blend together. Ultimately, Sokurovs approach amounts to an evasiveness that suggests that a literal interpretation of the storyline is too reductive.
Sokurov likes making series of films. Hes directed an ongoing string of video elegies. Hes in the midst of a trilogy about 20th century tyrants. Father and Son is the second part of a trilogy about family relations. The series began with Mother and Son, in 1997, and will conclude with Two Brothers and a Sister. Mother and Son, which wears its heart on its sleeve, is essentially a feature-length Pieta. In that film, the mother is dying, but the father in Father and Son looks about 35 years old, a plausible age since he mentions fathering Alexei at 19. Thus, his relationship with Alexei takes on overtones of rivalry and competition, especially when Sasha enters the picture.
Around the time the Soviet Union collapsed, Sokurov made The Second Circle, a metaphorical film about a sons struggle to bury his father. In the context of Russian history, Father and Son feels like an effort to imagine a kinder, gentler patriarchy.
The film is an odd, not fully integrated mix of dreamlike atmospherics, vulnerability, and machismo. The final scene shows the father on a snowy rooftop with his shirt off. Alexei delights in hanging above the ground on a flimsy board. The father watches boxing exercises at his school. Yet theres nothing conventionally macho about their emotional expressiveness.
Their physical closeness may be culturally Russian, but such physical intimacy between males is rare in the U.S. Women are nonexistent in this film, or portrayed as a threat to the father and sons bond.
Father and Son takes its masculine solemnity to the point of kitsch, although Sokurovs sensibility is too austere for camp. It has the courage of its convictions, strange as they may seem. For all Sokurovs denial about his films subtext, most gay American indie directors could learn a lot from his poetic visual style and depiction of emotional tenderness between men.