The Hunter (Okhotnik): Film Review

Two hours on a Russian hog farm is every bit as exciting as it sounds

There is maybe 10 to 15 minutes of actual story located within this 124 minute slog


CANNES — As a documentary about pig farming in Russia, you can’t do much better than Bakur Bakuradze’s The Hunter (Okhotnik). As a dramatic feature, which ostensibly is the reason Cannes programmer selected the film for Un Certain Regard, well, you get a lot of hogs and a few taciturn, solemn farmers feeding piglets, repairing machinery and driving around with the meat in an old pickup truck. Why on earth didn’t buyers in Cannes go wild over this one?

There is maybe 10 to 15 minutes of actual story located within this 124 minute slog so here it is: Ivan (Mikhail Barskovich) runs a pig farm but what he really likes to do is hunt wild boar. He has a wife and daughter — who barely appear on screen — and a son, Kolya (Gera Avdochenok) with a missing arm, circumstances unknown.

Ivan agrees to hire two female workers serving in a local prison. One quits for reasons that can be guessed, but Lyuba (Tatiana Shapovalova), serving a sentence for murdering a man, circumstances unknown, sticks it out for a while.

Ivan and Kolya go to spa as the doctor recommends this for his son’s health.  The son accompanies his dad and hired hand on fishing and hunting expeditions. Pigs get slaughtered and the meat delivered. Much time is spent on these deliveries.

After Lyuba does leave, Ivan unaccountably starts a pathetic affair with her. “Unaccountably” because this is not Mila Kunis’ younger, sexier sister but a bone-tired, plain-looking woman who doesn’t hold a candle to Ivan’s mostly off-screen wife. Yes, yes, there is such a thing as inner beauty, but this is a movie that doesn’t allow you inside any of its characters to assess their beauty, ugliness, morality, sense of self or outlook on life.

That’s about it for plot. It’s mentioned a few times that a World War II Russian plane lies at the bottom of the nearby lake. And father and son frequently drive past a war monument to another Soviet hero. (“What’s the Soviet Union?” Kolya asks in the only line to earn a chuckle.)

It’s the writer-director’s opinion, stated in production notes, that his Ivan represents a different kind of heroism “that can be concealed in daily, monotonous routines, in repetition.” Such a claim can indeed be made by many of cinema’s great directors who found enormous heroism in the routine. This does not happen in The Hunter. All you get is the routine, not heroism.

Bakuradze uses non-professional actors, which a viewer could probably guess from their stiffness on camera. This is becoming a badge of purity for number of European filmmakers these days. Of course, there will be some who wonder why they fear working with professionals.

Those laboring behind the camera do appear to be professionals as the hog farm is very nicely photographed and the costumes and production design seem very realistic.


Un Certain Regard

Sales: Intercinema Agency

Production companies: CTB Film Co., Salvador D, Intercinema

Cast: Mikhail Barskovich, Tatiana Shapovalova, Gera Avdochenok, Vladimir Degilev, Oksana Semenova

Director: Bakur Bakuradze

Screenwriters: Bakur Bakuradze, Ilya Malakhova

Producer: Sergey Selyanov

Executive producer: Julia Mishkinene

Director of photography: Nikolay Vavilov

Production designer: Kirill Shuvalov

Costume designers: Elena Gromova, Marianna Gaiduk

Editors: Daria Gladysheva, Ilya Malakhova, Arseniy Troitskiy

No rating, 124 minutes