This 2006 Russian film, available on DVD from Film Movement, takes us to a monastery on the edge of the White Sea. There, the monks are troubled by the antics of one of their own—a prankster who speaks in riddles and tends to a fiery furnace. In 1941, Anatoly was a Russian naval officer whose behavior during a Nazi attack left him scarred for life. Now, in 1976, he’s penitent to a fault, becoming either a madman or a puckish agent of revelation.
It may sound ponderous, but it’s actually a film that careens between crisis and comedy. The priests are a grizzled, grouchy bunch, and it’s amusing to see how Anatoly’s antics upset their solemn rituals.
Pavel Lounguine finds striking imagery in the stark landscape, and his lead actor, former Russian rock star Pyotr Mamonov, has an extraordinary face. The film won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2007. Nora Fitzgerald notes in The Washington Post, “After it opened in Moscow, priests and bishops began to bless the film, often standing in prayer outside theaters.”