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Movie Review by Alice Castle

Starring: Gleb Puskepalis, Igor Chernevich, Aleksandr Ilyin, Vladimir Kucherenko
Directors: Boris Khlebnikov, Alexei Popogrebsky

Russia’s love affair with the vodka bottle has never wavered despite the heady distractions of the country’s rocky politics. In a hundred and fifty years, Russia has gone from a feudal society, to communism and is now struggling along with rampant capitalism in its harshest form. Life expectancy of men in Russia has actually decreased over the last twenty years partly due to heavy drinking. While Gorbachev is treated as a hero in the west for his brave introduction of perestroika, in Russia he is remembered as an unpopular leader who tried unsuccessfully to pass anti-alcohol legislation and make Russia healthier.

KOKTEBEL is the fictional name of a coastal town in the Crimea. A recovering alcoholic has promised his son he will take him to see the sea for the first time in his young life. The film follows them on foot, train and truck on their long journey from Moscow in search of a better, happier place. At first we don’t know exactly why father and son are leaving the metropolis, or what has happened to the boy’s father, but as they struggle along stealing food, doing odd-jobs in return for shelter we realise they are running away from something. Determined to stay sober, the father manages to resist the bottle at first, but vodka in the cold provincial steppes is too much of a temptation to resist for long. Feeling betrayed by his father choosing drink and women over his son, the young boy decides to continue the journey he was promised alone.

Beautifully shot with essences of all the darkest eccentricities of Russian life this is a charming film with wonderful performances by both father and son.

5 out of 6 stars