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VISIONS DU RÉEL 2021 Competition

Review: Ostrov – Lost Island


- Svetlana Rodina and Laurent Stoop’s documentary portrays the paradoxical and poetic day-to-day existence of the inhabitants of the Russian island known as Ostrov

Review: Ostrov – Lost Island

From its opening images of illegal fishing, Ostrov – Lost Island [+see also:
film profile
– which world premiered within the Visions du Réel Festival’s International Feature Film Competition - takes us to a timeless and stateless location, where boundaries and laws seem to escape its inhabitants’ understanding. Indeed, only memories now remain of the sandy island of Ostrov, an important air base during the Cold War, renowned for its plentiful stocks of fish (notably caviar), and now an empty, ruinous shell of the past which nonetheless lives on in the minds of the locals, at least those of an older age. These memories, often recollected through an alcoholic haze, become a much-needed balm which help to sooth the ills of everyday life: a lack of proper roads, a lack of electricity and, crucially, a lack of work since fishing was made illegal.

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Indeed, since the fall of the Soviet Union, the island of Ostrov has disappeared completely off the radars of the cold and tentacular political system in which “small fish” are forced to fight for survival, armed only with the scarce resources at their disposal. Like the fish fighting for breath on the surrounding Caspian Sea shore, the few inhabitants to have stayed put on the island - who are also the protagonists of this documentary - including Ivan and his family, and the young couple who relocated to escape the gruelling nature of city life, struggle to get by on a daily basis. But what Russian director Svetlana Rodina and Swiss photographer and director Laurent Stoop really home in on are the contrasts which characterise the island deep down, between the need to escape far, far away (but to where?) and an unshakeable faith in Putin’s saving power; between despondency and moments of genuine communion, where smiles, hugs and a thoroughly refreshing sense of humour survive in spite of it all.

Imbued with a surreal atmosphere which comes close to science-fiction, Ostrov – Lost Osland scrutinises the faces of the island’s inhabitants in order to extrapolate mysteries which go beyond words, the latter often curbed by the nationalistic and demagogical discourse flooding national TV screens - the only means through which our protagonists can understand the world. As such, it’s in moments of downtime, when the camera seems to disappear and people look off into the distance, that the truth works its way out. Whilst unshakeable faith in a better future (Ivan’s attempt to write a letter to Putin himself is especially moving) appears successful in its eclipsing of everyday issues, the latter always find a way to make their presence felt: in the inhabitants’ middle-distance stares, in endlessly repeated gestures which become macabre dances, in half-spoken phrases ending with the nigh-on surreal conclusion “for now, Ostrov is my paradise”.  Exhausted, Ivan offers up an analysis that’s as simple as it is true: “for them (the government, the powerful), we’re nothing but misfits”, insignificant programming errors which they won’t allow to undermine the perfectly programmed machine that is the political apparatus. Despite the contradictions and mysteries exuded by the island, it’s ultimately the identity myth of an inviolable Russia that give strength to those who still believe in the future; a placebo which young people seem far less happy to swallow, as if lost between two inconsistent realities: a glorious past which isn’t theirs and a future that’s almost impossible to imagine. Between utopia and dystopia, Ostrov – Lost Island speaks of modern-day Russia torn between nostalgia and harsh reality.

Ostrov – Lost Island is produced by DokLab GmbH, who are also handing international sales.

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(Translated from Italian)

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