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Film review: ‘Melancholia’ is sad documentary

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THE 3 ROOMS OF MELANCHOLIA — *** — Documentary feature on the effects of Chechen warfare; with subtitles for some Eastern European dialects; not rated, probable PG-13 (violence, mild profanity, brief gore).

"The 3 Rooms of Melancholia" does its best to live up to its title. This documentary feature about the after-effects of various Russian and other Eastern Europeans conflicts is filled with images of the sad, desolate settings and even sadder faces of children.

It's almost too much to handle, though you can understand why Finnish filmmaker Pirjo Honkasalo chose to push things on moviegoers. Given the lack of attention that the plight of Chechen orphans gets from the Western news media, this might be the most effective way to get the message across.

"Melancholia" leans heavily toward propaganda, but the movie is well done, albeit almost overwhelmingly dark.

The "3 Rooms" are actually chapters of the story.

The first, "Longing," was shot in a military academy near St. Petersburg and looks at youngsters — most of them orphaned — who are learning to be soldiers and who may be involved in fighting one day.

The second, titled "Breathing," was shot in black and white, and follows Hadizhat, a woman who "collects" orphans and other children and takes them to safety across the Chechen border.

"Remembering," the third section, catches up with some of those children, who are now living on a farm in Ingushetia, the neighboring Islamic republic.

The film features minimal dialogue, and Honkasalo keeps Finnish playwright and author Pirkko Saiso's voiceover narration to a minimum. Instead, the focus is on capturing haunting imagery, which tells you all you really need to know about the children.

"The 3 Rooms of Melancholia" is not rated but would probably receive a PG-13 for some newsreel footage of war violence (as well as a scene of animal slaughter), scattered use of mild profanity, some brief animal gore and discussion of some adult themes. Running time: 105 minutes.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com