Film review: Unclenching the Fists (2021) by Kira Kovalenko

Claustrophobia suffocates the large display screen in Kira Kovalenko’s newest characteristic, “Unclenching the Fists.” Kovalenko’ sophomore movie gained Un Sure Regard at Cannes after which made its North American premiere at Telluride. Right here — on this ex-mining city — the distinction couldn’t have felt extra ironic. In comparison with the verdant Rockies, Kovalenko’s movie ruminates upon the ashy Caucasus. Rolling hills of mud restrain, quite than broaden, the characters on-the-ground — leaving us chained to circumstance together with the remainder of the solid. In comparison with the glee and the glamor of the competition outdoor, “Unclenching the Fists” languishes within the hopelessness of the longer term. 

“Unlenching the Fists” is screening at Black Movie International Festival of Independent Movies

In any case, nothing a lot goes for Ada (Milana Aguzarova), a universally adored, single Ossetian girl. After a bombing incident in her childhood, the boys in her life simply can’t appear to let her go. Her father, Zaur (Alik Karaev), hides her passport to maintain her in-town. Her youthful brother, Dakko (Khetag Bibilov), insists upon sleeping subsequent to her in mattress. Her starry-eyed loverboy, Tamik (Arsen Khetagurov), begs aggressively for her hand. When Zaur collapses in the future, Ada lastly finds her likelihood to flee… till she realizes that it’s harder to go away behind one’s household than it appears.

The story takes a very long time to realize momentum, and it takes even longer to totally see in movement. In some methods, the movie feels much less of a story than it does an outline of Ada’s poisonous atmosphere. Every small denial simply provides to the viewer’s sense of frustration; every present of affection equally invitations hand-wringing. Repeatedly blackmailed, stripped down, and embraced a bit of too arduous within the identify of affection, Ada’s future appears laced with dread. However what various does Ada have? Kovalenko invitations the viewer on an empathetic journey to really feel the complete vary of Ada’s feelings, from resentment to concern to resignation.  

Kovalenko’s technical prowess likewise illustrates Ada’s standing as effectively. Kovalenko establishes an astonishing degree of proximity between the digicam and the actors. Pillow pictures suffocate the viewer, because the digicam will get shut — typically too shut — to the actors. Amidst these nonetheless close-ups and perplexed medium pictures, there stays little room for anybody to breathe. And, unrelentingly, the digicam lingers upon the ache. A nonetheless digicam and an added reliance on ambient sound compounds the viewer’s consciousness of Ada’s constrained atmosphere. The ultimate product is, then, an intimate commentary of Ada’s downward spiral the place little stays inside her sphere of management. 

Therefore, although Ada struggles to interrupt free from her dwelling, she departs removed from different woman-led coming-of-age counterparts like “Ladybird” (2017). Not like Saoirse Ronan’s defiantly whimsical Christine, Aguzarova’s Ada is notably conflicted. In some pictures, she struggles to combat again; in others, she’s subdued; and but in others, she maintains a wavering, coy smile. Is she disgusted or affectionate? Does she wish to keep or go? Does she even know what she actually needs? Aguzarova’s nuanced efficiency breathes life into Ada, subtly portraying the imperfect insurrection of a person trapped within the identify of affection. 

Within the Q&A, Kovalenko revealed that even the manufacturing course of was emotionally straining for her actors. She revealed that Aguzarova — a first-time actress — cried every time they filmed on-set, till she requested Aguzarova to carry again the tears. Maybe it’s this mixture of passions that we see play about on Aguzarova’s face, then, in her portrayal of Ada: a torrent of agitations held again for the digicam to examine. 

The movie’s subject-matter is putting as effectively. As an alternative of the standard shrouds of extremism, faith, poverty, or struggle, Kovalenko presents a unique story of the northern Caucasus. She underscores distinctive, however common themes of overprotectiveness and poisonous codependency in her case research of Ossetia. Therefore – although this mining city is just not essentially portrayed in essentially the most favorable gentle – it nonetheless felt near the quiet morning viewers at Telluride. 

All issues thought-about then, “Unclenching the Fists” shines. Although it’s not very narratively compelling, its atmospheric pull is simple. Kovalenko’s delicate handiwork and course breathes life into her work of fiction — and makes us hope desperately that it solely stays as such.



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