There’s a moment at the end of the great Soviet World War II film The Cranes Are Flying where a soldier just home from victory addresses a celebrating crowd. He tells them they haven’t won in order to destroy, but so they could build a new life.
It’s a rare moment of optimism for Russian or Soviet World War II movies—the Soviets lost somewhere around 25 million people in the war.
The devastation to the country was extraordinary, and that’s often seen and felt in their movies. 1985’s Come and See is the angriest, most anguished primal scream I’ve ever seen on film.
The new movie Beanpole now joins the list of Russian war masterpieces by beginning its story after the fighting has stopped, and the country is in that moment when they’re trying to build a new life.
And if Come and See was a scream engulfed by rage, Beanpole is the sort of mournful wail that never escapes your lips. It’s the story of Iya, a tall, thin woman—the titular Beanpole—who is now a nurse, but had fought as an anti-aircraft gunner until an injury left her with catatonic fits. It’s also the story of Masha, another former soldier who desperately wants to create literal new life, but whose repeated abortions while serving on the front lines have left her unable.
There’s not a bomb or a gun to be found, those days are over. Physically, the world is at peace. Psychologically, trauma pervades the entire society—if you could see it, it would be seeping out of every human pore. Leaving behind the pain would be like trying to leave behind an arm or a head.
Beanpole is agonizingly sad, but it’s important, and also beautiful. It uses color as well as nearly any movie in recent memory, particularly its appropriately vibrant green. The voices are quiet, many actions are subtle, but an inferno still rages.
Beanpole is available through streaming rental sites, but if you’ve got a chance to watch it by the end of today, you can support the Salina Art Center by renting it through their website.