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BERLINALE 2018 Forum

Review: The Son


- BERLIN 2018: Alexander Abaturov’s documentary intimately immerses itself in the training of Spetsnaz recruits – the Russian special military forces

Review: The Son

"He has seen the brave die during combat," "I lost my only child, the army took him away." It's by contrasting (without imposing judgement, but instead placing his camera at the heart of the two sides of reality) the training of Spetsnaz recruits – the Russian special military forces – with the grief of the parents of his cousin, Dima, killed in action in Daghestan at the age of 21, that the young documentary filmmaker, Alexander Abaturov situates The Son [+see also:
film profile
, screened in the Forum section at the 68th Berlin International Film Festival

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With the Russian director – who graduated from Lussa – delegating production to a French company, at its core, the film offers a result that is balanced with the difficulty of being allowed to film inside a training centre for young recruits (the military authorities granted the request of the parents of the deceased and his comrades-in-arms, who wished to pay their respects, while the FSB was much more reluctant). It is clear from this delicate context that beyond the prism of the objective capturing of reality that complies with the ethics of documentary filmmaking, Alexander Abaturov has been particularly careful to avoid any apparent ideological leaning, leaving the audience to draw their own conclusions. But the shadow of death that hangs over the film, punctually making an appearance in sequences in which the parents attempt to contain their emotions (the bedroom of their deceased son, a mass in his memory followed by an informal family gathering, the creation and installation of a statue of him in the cemetery, gifted by his brothers-in-arms) allows the film to avoid becoming what could potentially be seen as "propaganda" in the glory of some very patriotic Russian soldiers. 

Infiltrating the barracks where the young soldiers sit, with their shaved heads and striped sweaters, in a group sewing session – reassembling convicts from another era – Alexander Abaturov follows the various stages involved in the training process: the pledges, the exaltation of their values (“you must value this title for as long as you live, there is no relationship more sacred than that with your fellow comrade”), the soldiers trudging through the mud, manoeuvring through the forest with explosions and bursts of gunfire, the first-aid courses (a non-commissioned officer with a prosthetic foot teaches them how to attach a tourniquet) up until the final exam to become a red beret (with a final boxing event in which helmeted newcomers are bludgeoned bloody by their instructors). In short, advanced military training that will hardly surprise those who are familiar with how armies operate all over the globe, but which will certainly interest those who are not well-accustomed with it, allowing the director to demonstrate a sharp sense of setting and the rhythm of editing, all while creating a beautiful homage to his deceased cousin. A young 21-year-old man whose memory is reflected on the faces of the new Spetsnaz recruits, headed for the North Caucuses and its war grounds.

Produced by Petit à Petit Production with Studio IDA (Russia) and Siberiade, The Son is being sold internationally by Andana Films.

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(Translated from French)

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