Monday, March 26, 2007


Cute kid sans rose-colored glasses

By Edward Copeland
Over the years it seems as if there has been a nearly bottomless well of foreign language releases arriving on U.S. shores that revolve around cute kids to some extent with varying degrees of sugary sentiment.

They'd span the quality of great (Central Station) to good (Kolya) to unbearable (Burnt By the Sun).

That's why the Russian film The Italian (or Italianetz) seems a refreshing change of pace, even if it's not as good as some of those other films.

Part of the strength of the film is the kid himself, Vanya (Kolya Spiridonov), a resident of a horrid Russian orphanage who is on the verge of being adopted by an Italian couple. A series of events convince the orphans that not only might their real parents return for them some day but that the owners of the orphanage might be selling them to the highest bidders so their organs can be harvested.

It's Oliver Twist meets Dirty Pretty Things. Convinced that he shouldn't go with the couple, though he thinks they seem nice enough, Vanya runs away from the orphanage on a quest to find his real mother.

That's basically the simple story. There aren't any twists or tricks, just a gritty slice of life in contemporary Russia.

In addition to the talented Spiridonov, who ably carries the film on his small, young shoulders, there also are fine turns by Mariya Kuznetsova as Madam, who runs the seedy orphanage but doesn't overplay her role as the film's main villain, and most especially by Sasha Sirotkin as her sidekick, who often ends up on the wrong end of a beating.

The Italian marks the directing debut of Andrei Kravchuk from a script by Andrei Romanov and while it's far from a great film, it is a good one.

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