A six-year-old orphan is bent on finding his mother in this Dickensian tale from Russian director Andrei Kravchuk. Vanya is much less a victim than the likes of Oliver Twist though, devising a plan that takes him far from the world he knows. The little tyke is played by Kolya Spiridonov, ably carrying the film on his tiny shoulders with a subdued but unrelenting spirit. Even when Kravchuck lets the story drift, the boy is a solid anchor.
An identity crisis strikes when Vanya is picked for adoption by an Italian couple. His fellow orphans reckon he's the luckiest boy alive, going to a place where you can pluck oranges from the trees, but Vanya is alarmed by the thought that his real mother will never be able to find him. While the wheels of bureaucracy slowly turn, life continues unchanged at the orphanage, except that Vanya takes reading lessons with the intention of sneaking a look at his personal file. Eventually, he finds himself with an address and a train ticket...
"THE BOY IS A SOLID ANCHOR"
Kravchuck draws the most power from the first half of the film, observing life at the orphanage. It's a self-contained world where the children have established their own hierarchy and moral code. When Vanya is beaten for withholding money, it's heartbreaking, but at the same time echoes the importance of fraternity to these abandoned kids. Just as poignant is the bond between Vanya and the child prostitute who teaches him to read (Sasha Sirotkin). Unfortunately, when he runs away, the sense of uncertainty filters through to every aspect of the film. Vanya gets into all sorts of peril as he goes around the houses - quite literally - in search of Mama, but this gets repetitious and the adoption broker who pursues him (Mariya Kuznetsova) comes across too much like a pantomime villain. It's a bumpy ride at times, but with Spiridonov marching so doggedly onwards, it's hard not follow.
The Italian (Italianetz) is out in the UK on 25th January 2008.