"Dickensian" is a word often used to describe heart-breaking dramas involving children. Al though, the stories of Charles Dickens are set in a bleak landscape of London, he also finds some occasional rays of sunshine and humor. Russian director Andrei Kravchuk's "The Italian" (2005) is focused on the plight of one boy, but unlike Dickens, the black humor is replaced by doggedness and desperation.
The story is set in a Russian city in the late 90's. The banking and financial institutions have collapsed at that time. Peoples were left penniless and homeless. Parents abandoned children in orphanages and a servant in the film says that, "They're selling kids for bucks. This country's going downhill." Most of the orphanages are overrun and have their own alternate economy fueled by theft, prostitution, and protection money. "The Italian" is set in such an orphanage, where the six year old Vanya (Kolya Spiridonov) was abandoned. The name "Italian" sticks to him, when a wealthy Italian couple offers to adopt him and take him to their country. The process of adoption might take two months.
Vanya isn't thrilled at this prospect, whereas the other orphans are jealous of his good fortune to be given a chance for a better life. The overrun orphanage was run by "Madam" (Maria Kuznetsova). She is a money-grubber, who operates illegally as baby-broker, satisfying the needs of wealthy Europeans. The chauffeur and occasional lover of "madam", Sery (Andrey Elizarov) is a heavy-lidded thug, who makes sure that all of her desires are met. Kolyan (Denis Moiseenko) is a teenager, who operates as underground leader of a gang. He follows Darwinian principle and takes money from the orphans who work for him.
One day, a drunk and poor mother comes to orphanage looking for her son. She is harassed by the madam and was thrown away by the thugs. The distraught mother reminds Vanya of his own birth mother and therefore begins a quest find his mother no matter what it takes. Irka (Olga Shuvalova), a feisty teenage prostitute is convinced by Vanya to help him. This part takes through the bleak landscape of Russia, while Vanya shows a heartbreaking strength of will.
Spiridonov character Vanya has got to be one of the best memorable characters in modern cinema. The blond-haired, hazel-eyed boy reminds us of how sad it is that so many children in the world have been deprived of the parental love -- the thing which most of us take for granted. There are many rough spots in the narrative but Spiridonov cute, intrepid acting makes us to overlook the flaws.
"The Italian" is said to be based upon a true story, but Andrei Kravchuk's direction doesn't extract any false sentimentality out of the story. Andrei -- a documentary film-maker -- has taken his inspiration from neorealist director Vittorio de Sica's "Shoeshine" (1946). Like De Sica's films, Andrei mixes benevolence and indifference without being overly sentimental. Andrei Romanov's script makes the orphanage as a metaphor for the Russian country as a whole. His script makes sure that it's not just maternal quest of a boy, but also about the economic fiasco, that came smashing at the end of great Soviet Union.
"The Italian" succeeds cursory kindness with stark brutality, so it's not a easy movie to watch. The final shot of Vanya's angelic face might haunt you for days. But, the realism showcased in the movie is honest and you will be definitely moved by the soul-blasted portrayal of modern Russia.
The Italian (Italyanets) -- IMDb