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Film review: Freeze-die-rise Again

The title of this Soviet film, which won a prestigious prize at the Cannes Film Festival last year, is "Freeze-Die-Rise Again" on the screen, but "Freeze-Die-Come to Life" in the press material.

That would seem to be a problem of translation — and there is much to this movie that doesn't seem to translate as well as it should.

"Freeze-Die" is a low-budget, black-and-white, coming-of-age picture set against a bleak mining community in the frozen terrain of the Soviet Ori

MOVIE ent at the close of World War II. In addition to mining, the town is the site of a labor camp for prisoners of war, whose lives aren't all that different from the townfolk.

As an example of new artistic freedoms in the Soviet Union, "Freeze-Die" is a startling film, though to Western audiences it is not all that different from many sincere, oblique little independent films on similar subjects.

There is, no doubt, deeper significance here, but filmmaker Vitaly Kanevski doesn't make it easy for us to grasp.

The film follows young Valerka, and to a lesser degree his friend Galiya (played, respectively, by Pavel Nazarov and Dinara Drukarova — two amateurs who deliver remarkable performances), in an episodic fashion.

We see them selling tea to miners in the freezing cold mornings; coping with the bizarre adults around them, including Valerka's mother, a prostitute who slams the door to their meager apartment on him at supper time; confronting local bullies and gradually playing pranks that escalate in danger — pouring yeast down a school toilet, resulting in a sewer backing up, to derailing a train.

Eventually, they find themselves running for their lives from a band of criminals whom Valerka joins up with for a time.

Most of the acting here is quite shrill — too shrill at times. But there are quiet moments of great power, as when a scholar from Moscow who's gone crazy comes to town, gets some much-coveted flour in a food line and is followed by a group of children as he goes off to make "little white pancakes." What they see is this once-great man dropping to his knees and mixing the flour with mud before stuffing it in his mouth. It is arguably the film's most moving sequence, but there aren't enough like it.

Too often Kanevski throws in scenes that seem unjustifiably weird, such as the film's curious final moments when a dead child's grieving mother dances nude outside her home and we hear the Kanevski himself giving instructions to her and to the cameraman.

One would think this closing scene was meant to be devastating, a final cynical, closing blow to the meaningless existence displayed throughout the movie. Instead, however, it seems to be a theatrical tease — as if to say, "Hey, this is only a movie and we didn't really mean it."

Surely, that is not the case. But the closing moments make you wonder.

"Freeze-Die-Rise Again" is not rated, but would probably get an R for nudity and violence, along with some profanity and vulgarity.