2009 // Russia // Andrey Khrzhanovskiy // November 18, 2011 // Theatrical Print (Hi-Pointe Theater)
For his feature film debut, Russian writer-director Andrey Khrzhanovskiy spins an arrhythmic, freewheeling fantasy about Jewish Soviet-American poet Iosif Brodsky, a writer who remains relatively obscure in the popular consciousness of the United States despite a Nobel Prize and stint as our Poet Laureate. Ripe with dewy Old Country nostalgia and yet scornful of Communist rule and the Russian character generally, A Room and a Half looks at snowy Leningrad through the eyes of a self-aware artist who longs for his childhood (while conceding its bleakness). Framed by a fictional homecoming for the exiled Brodsky, Khrzhanovskiy's approach is amorphous and whimsical, complete with animated digressions, sepia and colorized recollections, and archival footage both real and mock. The film recalls meandering memoirs as diverse as Radio Days, Persepolis, and The Beaches of Agnès, but its most direct antecedent is My Winnipeg. However, A Room and a Half's at times overplayed heartache and dithering tendencies mark it as a lesser film compared to Guy Maddin's dreamy, ambivalent marvel. Khrzhanovskiy studs his film with oddly captivating little detours, but the result is a work that feels unfocused and rambling, one never entirely comfortable with the intensity of its own pathos.