'Natasha': Film Review

Courtesy of Film Society of Lincoln Center
A provocative coming-of-age drama.

A teenage boy begins an affair with his younger, Russian step-cousin in David Bezmozgis' adapation of his acclaimed short story collection.

A coming-of-age tale is infused with complicated emotional and sociological dynamics in award-winning writer David Bezmozgis' adaptation of his book Natasha and Other Stories. This provocative story of the 16-year-old son of Russian immigrants, who becomes sexually involved with the even younger daughter of his great-uncle's new wife, was recently featured in the New York Jewish Film Festival.

The central character of Natasha, set in a Toronto suburb, is Mark (Alex Ozerov), who despite his parents' entreaties to get a summer job is more interested in lazing about, getting high, masturbating to online porn and selling pot for the local drug dealer, 20-year-old Rufus (Aidan Shipley), who serves as his unlikely intellectual mentor.

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Mark's complacency is jolted by the arrival of his great-uncle Fima (Igor Ovadis); his much younger Russian wife Zina (Aya-Tatyana Stolnits); and her sexy, 14-year-old daughter Natasha (Sasha K. Gordon). Since Natasha doesn't speak English, Mark's parents ask him to help her acclimate to her new surroundings. It isn't long before the sexually free teenage girl has revealed secrets about her past, including having appeared in pornographic films. She makes no attempt to hide her disdain for her mother and her resentment over having been uprooted from her home and friends.

She also quickly seduces Mark, introducing him to a world of sexual pleasures even as he becomes increasingly anxious about the adults discovering their secret.

Plenty of thematic issues are thrown into the narrative mix, such as Mark's fractured identity: he speaks Russian at home, but English with his neighborhood friends with whom he's intent on fitting in. The Arab-Israeli conflict is a frequent subject at the dinner table; and the provenance of the marriage between Fima and Zina, as well as the latter's true motivations, are murky.

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Bezmozgis, whose previous feature was 2009's Victoria Day, is more assured as a writer than filmmaker, with Natasha featuring a bland visual and editing style. But he's elicited fine performances from the ensemble, with Ozerov moving as the conflicted teen and Gordon displaying a vivacity that makes her sexual appeal to her new cousin fully credible. Their graphic scenes together have a disturbing emotional urgency too often missing from the rest of the proceedings.

Venue: New York Jewish Film Festival

Production: Vortex Words + Picture

Cast: Alex Ozerov, Sasha K. Gordon, Deanna Dezmari, Genadijs Dolganovs, Igor Ovadis, Aidan Shipley, Aya-Tatyana Stolnits

Director/screenwriter: David Bezmozgis

Producers: Bill Marks, Deborah Marks

Executive producers: Daniel Ostroff, Aeschylus Poulos, Hussain Amarshi, Jeff Sackman

Director of photography: Guy Godfree

Production designer: Peter Cosco

Editor: Michelle Szemberg

Costume designer: Ginger Martini

Casting: Marsha Chesley

Not rated, 96 minutes

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