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Tesnota – Young Critics Workshop

Tesnota (Kantemir Balagov, 2017)

Situated in Nalchik, Russia, in 1998, Tesnota (Kantemir Balagov, 2017) narrates a highly complex socio-political climate that continues to this day. Shot blocking and crowded indoor settings highlight the paradoxical relation between proximity and isolation in the Jewish-Russian family of Ilana (Darya Zohvner), a tomboy forced to give up the garage where she works and the home that she knows when her brother is abducted by what her mother essentially refers to as a ‘rival clan’.

Through recurring colours in props and costumes, characters are related to each other and certain environments, turning the different shades of orange and blue into a subtle code suggesting an almost tribal bond between the characters. A blue jacket, a blue telephone and a blue dress on a euro trash pop star on the television somehow amount to a mysterious sense of belonging.

The stylistically surprising piece sports a convincing cast. Small gestures between the family members tangibly reverberate beyond their instantaneous occurrence. Ilana’s isolation within her community is often made tactile by framing her face with the bodies of her brother and sister-in-law, standing straight in front of the camera, towering above her and enclosing her in a canyon of estrangement. Tender moments – Ilana’s brother touching her cheek while they’re sneakily smoking a cigarette – alternate with moments of desperate rebellion. Darya Zohvner plays the impetuous Ilana well, redeeming the character even in her most reprehensible moments.