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Ostrov (The Island)

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Russian singer Mamonov plays hermit in new film

Art closely follows life in a new Russian film about a hermitic monk with a guilty past played by a 1980s Russian rock singer who shunned society after a religious transformation.

The White Sea provides the barren backdrop for director Pavel Lounguine's "Ostrov" ("The Island"), in which former rocker Pyotr Mamonov plays Anatoly, a man who shoots a comrade during World War Two and winds up living a hermit's existence near an isolated monastery burdened with the guilt of his past.

People come from all over the country to visit Anatoly the monk, who is a practical joker and a thorn in the side for his Orthodox brothers, yet still revered as a sage and visionary. . . .

Lounguine, who worked with Mamonov in his acclaimed debut picture "Taxi Blues" in 1990, insisted on Mamonov as the lead.

"Regardless of the fact that he is still connected to ... entertainment, the fate of this extraordinary man and his personal life-journey from show business to religion reflects the plot of the film," Lounguine said.

"The Island" premiered at the Venice Film Festival at the weekend, where it was showing out of competition. . . .

Reuters, September 10

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I'll be seeing this in Toronto tomorrow (Sept. 11), and I'll post some thoughts here.

Here's the festival's blurb.

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I posted my review to Twitch yesterday.

My only complaint with the film is that the ending felt a little too neat and tidy, but other than that, I really liked the film (as did my wife). One thing I especially liked was the fact that Anatoly, although very pious and repentant, is something of a prankster, which injected some interesting humor into the film and lightened the mood. One of the best scenes in the film is where he locks his abbot in the monastery's furnace room and begins stoking all of the fires, scaring the poor man half to death... all to convict him of his worldliness. Indeed, many of the monk's quirky habits and pranks are intended to impart some spiritual wisdom to his "victims".

Also worth nothing is the film's treatment of the supernatural elements. As the film continues, it becomes rather clear that, in addition to being somewhat kooky, Anatoly also possesses some supernatural gifts. He prophesies, heals, and even participates in an exorcism. However, such phenomena is treated very simply and straightforwardly. There are no flashes of light, no swells of music, nothing that beats the viewer over the head and tells them that they need to be in awe because something big is happening. It's all matter-of-fact and downplayed, though things clearly happen. It reminded me of the little supernatural flourishes that take place in Diary Of A Country Priest, which aren't really flourishes at all.

I don't know much about Orthodox monastic rules, so I don't how authentic the film's depiction of the monastic lifestyle was, but it certainly seemed authentic to me.

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Coming to Sundance 2007, along with ANOTHER film involving a Russian monastery ...

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The film is now available on DVD, albeit in the PAL format.

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And Jon Pais has just posted a review of the DVD on Twitch.

Dealing with issues of faith, guilt and the struggle with sin, "The Island" is hardly the kind of movie an aging reprobate like me would find diverting, you are probably thinking. And you

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Feature film about Orthodox monk sweeps Russian film awards

A feature film about repentance - as embodied by a Russian Orthodox monk tormented by his wartime past - has swept top prizes at Russia's main film awards ceremony. "Ostrov," or "Island," took six Zolotoi Oryol, or Golden Eagle awards, including best film, director and actor at a ceremony on 27 January.

The film stars Pyotr Mamonov, a Soviet-era underground rock star who has become a devout Orthodox believer and now lives in an isolated village. It was directed by Pavel Lungin, previously most famous for "Taxi Blues", a perestroika-era film also starring Mamonov, and "Tycoon: A New Russian," a fictionalised take on the rise of Boris Berezovsky, a controversial magnate now living in British exile.

In his acceptance speech, compared by some Russian media to a sermon, Mamonov condemned his own popularity as idolatry and called on Russian women to stop having abortions. . . .

Ecumenical News International, February 1

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'Island' rules Russia

Lungin pic sweeps Nika awards

Variety, March 26

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Father Stephen at Glory to God for all Things has seen it, and he loves it.

Edited by David Smedberg

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Rod Dreher:

The only other film I've seen that was as powerful spiritually in the same way as this was the staggering 1996 film "Breaking the Waves," which was about a different kind of holy fool, and is significantly less Orthodox (and orthodox) than "Ostrov" . . . Still, both films are invitations to consider how God intervenes in our lives via what Kierkegaard called "the teleological suspension of the ethical." The original holy fool must have been Abraham, taking his son Isaac for sacrifice at God's request. It is to my mind the most bizarre story in the Bible (which takes some doing, admittedly).

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That does it. I've got to see this. I had it in hand at the video store last week, but opted for Southland Tales out of sheer curiosity over the bizarre things I've read. I haven't seen The Island, but boy did I make the wrong choice. Southland Tales is two-plus hours I want back.

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Extraordinary.

This should have been near the very top of the Critics' Choice AND the "Most Redeeming Films" lists at Christianity Today in 2006. I wish we'd been on top of it back then.

This film deserves the kind of attention and recommendation that we were lavishing upon Sophie Scholl: The Final Days. You should all bump this to the top of your Netflix queues. So much to enjoy, discuss, and recommend. We rarely enjoy films that take faith -- specifically Christian faith -- so seriously, with such interesting character development and such memorable environments. I laughed, I gasped, I was moved. I love this movie.

Edited by Overstreet

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Glad you liked it, Jeffrey.

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You should all bump this to the top of your Netflix queues.

Done. Thanks.

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You should all bump this to the top of your Netflix queues.

Done. Thanks.

Likewise. I'm number 2 in the "holds" queue. This should provide some respite from the onslaught of sure-to-be vapid action movies I've been assigned over the next couple of weeks. Many are "opening cold." They're gonna be great.

EDIT: Hey, this is part of the Film Movement series. Jeffrey, aren't you a subscriber? I didn't get your earlier note about not choosing this DVD at the video store. Isn't it sent to you directly? I'm not sure how the subscription service works, although I've seen several Film Movement titles that I've enjoyed.

Edited by Christian

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I borrowed a copy from someone 1.5 to 2 years ago. I still have that copy. I meant to watch that copy back then. I still mean to.

BTW, when did this film come out on DVD in North America? That might affect its eligibility for CT Movies purposes. (The copy I borrowed way back when was a Russian import.)

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It is part of Film Movement, but it was distributed before I subscribed.

I got it from Netflix.

Lucky for me, I befriended the president of the company this week, and he just sent me a gift pack... so now I have two copies in the house, one from Netflix, and one I get to keep! B)

I can't give up any details right now, but FilmMovement has something *very* special in the works... You'd be smart to subscribe now.

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When did Film Movement release the film? The IMDb indicates the film didn't come out anywhere in the U.S. until 2007, when it played at Sundance, and there's no indication as to when it came out on DVD. CT Movies generally doesn't highlight films until after they've become available to the average American (either by going into wide release theatrically, or by coming out on DVD). So by CT Movies rules, Ostrov would not have qualified for 2006, and possibly not even for 2007. It might yet qualify, in other words, depending on when it became widely available in the U.S.

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Film Movement released the film April 3, 2008, according to Amazon.

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Does this increase your curiosity?

After it opened in Moscow, priests and bishops began to bless the film, often standing in prayer outside theaters. The Russian Orthodox clergy's stamp of approval fueled suspicion among Russian critics, who compared it to old-fashioned party approval.

Lungin has repeatedly denied that the church ordered the film or helped to finance it, although he received funding from the government-owned television channel Rossiya. The budget for the film was about $2 million.

"It was just as surprising to me that the church accepted this film," Lungin said, smoking zealously in his apartment near the Moscow River on the quiet end of Novy Arbat, a busy street in central Moscow. "I thought they would have problems with something, at least in the details." Instead, some bishops organized events around the film and advertised it in their churches.

Lungin said he believes in God but does not follow any structured religion. He seems more interested in the exploration and rejection of the values of the past 20 years, and he expresses deep disappointment in the post-perestroika era.

"The material world hasn't given us any answers to our questions," he said. "People feel lost in a spiritual way. . . . There are these feelings of guilt and sin and at the same time an idea that people can be redeemed."

International critics wrote that the film was reminiscent of "The Return," a dark meditation released in 2003 that won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. The rise of smaller, more artistic films suggests to some that Russian filmmaking has an artistic as well as commercial future.

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Yeah, it certainly reminded me of The Return, with a dash of a poor-man's Stalker -- which is a compliment, not a slam. I just finished Ostrov and am a little flustered that I wasn't more captivated by the film. All of the ingredients are there for something great, but although the film held my interest, it never gripped me. Definitetly worth seeing, however.

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I found much to admire in the film, in its glimpse to the world of the Russian monks and their deliberate way of living. I have to admit I'm only a tourist in this style of spirituality, but I thought the spiritual journey of the main character was done very well. I liked the glimpses of humor, and I liked the film's portrayal of

forgiveness

and

the exorcism

handled in such a matter-of-fact low-key fashion; not glorifying emotionalism but showing God working through humble men.

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Yeah, it certainly reminded me of The Return, with a dash of a poor-man's Stalker -- which is a compliment, not a slam. I just finished Ostrov and am a little flustered that I wasn't more captivated by the film. All of the ingredients are there for something great, but although the film held my interest, it never gripped me. Definitetly worth seeing, however.

I wasn't as gripped by it either, but I think it has a lot of things to say about faith and repentance. I specifically like the way in which the film draws parallels between Antoli's approach to healing and teaching, and the way in which God ultimately teaches him. He has been tricked just as he has tricked others. There are a lot of interesting images of practical theology in there, a memorable one being the way in which he convinces the young single mother to keep her child. I think what makes something like The Return so much more gripping is that it leaves a lot more up to the imagination, much more room for play. Ostrov is very cut and dried, the themes and storyline are already very well defined.

I am a big fan of Taxi Blues, which is an excellent story about Russians in that age of change. It is a very gritty and manic film, very different from the reflective pace of Ostrov. It is also a very realist film, not nearly as fabled as Ostrov. Interesting to see a director work successfully in two different modes.

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I think what makes something like The Return so much more gripping is that it leaves a lot more up to the imagination, much more room for play. Ostrov is very cut and dried, the themes and storyline are already very well defined.

I completely agree. I think The Return is a superior film, and I prefer it in just about every way. It's a completely different kind of film. It's poetic in composition. The pictures really mean things poetically, where Ostrov's imagery is merely serving the narrative.

Still, I'm very impressed with both films.

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I think what ultimately makes Ostrov so commendable is how it manipulates the Jonah theme. There is a lot of irony (the Kierkegaard sort) in the way he washes up on this shore, learns how to trick people into better conceptions of holiness, and then realizes eventually

that he has been tricked by God in the same way

. I can imagine this being an excellent film to use as a starter film in film discussion groups for a wide variety of audiences.

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