'Little Bird' ('Ptichka'): Rome Review

Courtesy of Rome Film Festival - H 2015

An enigmatic, minimalist teen movie filled with visual flourishes.

Russian writer-director Vladimir Beck premiered his sophomore feature in Rome.

A sleepaway camp movie unlike any other, Little Bird (Ptichka) is a minimalist coming-of-ager about four young Russians finding love and loss over the course of a few hot, and sometimes heavy, summer weeks. With virtually zero dialogue and a highly enigmatic sense of narrative, writer-director Vladimir Beck (Skinless) manages to convey a palpable feeling of adolescent angst, though he may lose viewers looking for a story and characters they can easily invest in. After premiering at the Rome Film Festival, this low budget, artfully lensed bird should nest in a few other fests.

Recalling the recent work of Terence Malick, especially with its freely associative scenario and shots of children roaming fields at the height of the magic hour, Beck’s film focuses on a pair of counselors, the swarthy Pascha (Pyotr Skvortsov) and the withdrawn Rita (Margarita Tolstoganova), and a pair of campers, the shy Dima (Matvey Ivanov) and the even shier Lenta (Aleksandra Rybakova), who spend the summertime chasing after one another or otherwise drifting apart.

In a nutshell, little Dima is obsessed with newcomer Rita, who’s gradually falling for the popular Pascha, who’s the sole object of the young Lenta’s affection. It’s like Max Ophuls’s La Ronde, except the characters hardly speak or express their feelings. Instead, they spend a lot of time gazing into the abyss or else staring at one another — in a series of peeping tom moments — with Dima and Lenta joining forces in their mutual displeasure at seeing their elders hook up, as camp counselors have a tendency to do.

Working with DP Kseniya Sereda, Beck crafts a series of visually resonant moments — some of them filled with rather heavy-handed symbolism — that underscore the collective longing of his four leads, each of whom seems to want something they can never have. If growing up is in part learning to understand one’s limits, then Little Bird does an impressive job illustrating that sentiment, even if the elliptical storytelling can prove frustrating at times. Still, the filmmakers make an interesting case for keeping their point-of-view strictly on the side of the teens (there are no adults ever present on screen), resulting in a movie that can feel as naive, sensuous and disembodied as adolescence itself. 

Production company: Trikita Entertainment

Cast: Pyotr Skvortsov, Margarita Tolstoganova, Matvey Ivanov, Aleksandra Rybakova, Timofey Shubin

Director, screenwriter: Vladimir Beck

Producers: Yelena Yatsura, Yury Krestinskiy, Vladimir Beck

Director of photography: Kseniya Sereda

Production designer: Nina Vasenina

Costume designer: Nina Vasenina

Editor: Vladimir Beck

Composer: Dmitry Evgrafov

Sales agent: Antipode

No rating, 88 minutes

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