'Brothers. The Final Confession' ('Brati. Ostannya spovid'): Hanoi Review

Courtesy of Hanoi International Film Festival
Slack-stepped storytelling takes the punch out of this visually competent drama 

Ukrainian filmmaker Viktoria Trofimenko's takes to the snowy mountains of the Carpathians to produce a family saga about a decades-long enmity between two siblings

Revolving around a sibling rivalry unfolding across decades amid snow-blanketed landscapes and sporadic saintly visions, Ukrainian filmmaker Viktoria Trofimenko's feature-film directorial debut has the word "epic" stamped all over it. Its intense performances, meticulous production design and swooping score mark it as the latest in the long line of filmic portrayals of alienation and estrangement in the windswept east of Europe.

An adaptation of Swedish novelist Torgny Lindgren's novel SweetnessBrothers. The Final Confession oozes enough wintry melancholy to have secured plenty of festival exposure — though the film's late-November appearance in Hanoi, nearly a year after it bowed in the International Film Festival of India, is one of the few festival-circuit stops it has made outside Eastern Europe. Its inability to capture the imagination of programmers from Western Europe and North America lies with storytelling techniques rendering the film as bloated as the two overweight brothers at its core.

The film begins with sharp visual impact: The brief prologue of Saint Christopher crossing the river soundtracked by Svyastolav Lunyov's atonal musical clusters leads into scenes introducing the warring and ailing Voytko (the cancer-stricken ex-carpenter played by Oleg Mosiychuk) and Stanislav (Viktor Demertash, shaping up as the cattleman with a bursting heart), and the nameless urbanite writer (Natalka Polovynka) inadvertently caught up in their warring as she seeks shelter from the men and somewhere quiet to finish her novel. Vlad Odulenko's production design is remarkable in outlining the men's markedly different traits: Voytko's dark and dank shack — reflecting his sneaky, shadowy streak — and Stanislav's brightly colored interiors, a sign of the naivete which will eventually lead to indecision and grief.

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It's all very cinematic and helps in providing the story with fully-formed characters, but what appears to be a tactic to sustain the film's suspense slowly unravels as Trofimenko refrains from revealing the central trauma. The siblings' sniping at each other from afar, and only through the intermediary in the writer, gradually becomes repetitive and frustrating, creating a sense of inadvertent claustrophobia. It's 45 minutes in before the film hops back decades to account for the thing tearing their brotherly bond asunder — and it's hardly a surprise it involves a love triangle, with the young men (played by Mykola Bereza and Roman Lutskiy) winning and losing the heart of a woman (Veronika Shostak) through their cooking.

The meandering steps undertaken by Brothers' flashback-infused plot undermine what could have been another poignant, religious-tinged and technically competent family saga, with Tatyana Khodakovskaya's editing keeping things clipping along even when the storytelling in the film's first half starts to drag. Though the siblings' broken relationship is slowly revealed and healed, Polovynka's performance pales before those of Mosiychuk and Demertash, their portrayals exuding the stale stench of anguish and bitterness built up over decades of grief.

Production companies: Pronto Film
Cast: Natalka Polovynka, Oleg Mosiychuk, Viktor Demertash
Director: Viktoria Trofimenko
Screenwriter: Viktoria Trofimenko, based on the novel Sweetness by Torgny Lindgren
Producers: Maxim Asadchiy, Igor Savychenko, Viktoria Trofimenko
Director of photography: Yaroslav Pilunskiy
Production designer: Vlad Odulenko
Editor: Tatyana Khodakovskaya
Music: Svyastolav Lunyov
International Sales: Antipode

No rating, 120 minutes