Altered Innocence: Our Review of ‘Astrakan’

Posted in What's Streaming? by - April 03, 2024
Altered Innocence: Our Review of ‘Astrakan’

David Depesseville’s Astrakan‘s message, or its attempt of one, is that children get a lot of blame for things, although at least, the life of the main child here, Samuel (Mirko Giannini), has some arc to it. He’s not always on the receiving end of scolding from a couple (Jehnny Beth, Bastien Bouillon) who adopted him for bad reasons. He gets a girlfriend who he still ends up seeing even after the girl’s father walked in on them. Even while he’s with her he feels a sense that things might go south.

Living in the French countryside, Samuel notices that his foster uncle is taking one of his foster brothers away somewhere. Witnessing this makes him act out in ways that his foster parents have trouble understanding. Telling them, of course, is not an option because he does things that make them not believe him. If anything, Astrakan does its best to underplay the tension of what Sanuel ends up doing. Which adult will he confide in, and what are the consequences of doing just that?

One of the conflicts in this film is how often Samuel comes in close proximity to the uncle. What will he do to prevent that, and what happens when certain scenarios seem inevitable? Astrakan, thankfully, keeps Samuel far apart from his sketchy foster uncle, but that doesn’t mean he’s free. He still has to deal with his foster parents, and thankfully the film gives them some nuance. I can’t say the same for the other characters who are outright dismissive of his ‘symptoms’. Depesseville and his co-writer Clara Bourreau deserve blame for that.

Again, if anything, Astrakan almost succeeds in creating Samuel as a character study of some sort. At least, he’s on the viewers’ minds even if he’s not on screen, obviously seeing things within his perspective. Shots of the landscapes in the film are mindful of the tragedies that he dreadingly anticipates. The same thing goes from some of the still lives here, evoking a copy of Bresson. All of this visual language, though, points to the film’s opacity, its way of dragging out its storytelling.

I was on board with Astrakan, especially as it finally gets to Samuel making moves about his predicament. All of this, by the way, is tangential to the running time debate, a debate I have no sides on. In this case, though, the film may benefit from ending even before 90 minutes. Without getting into spoilers, one thing happens after the 90 minute mark that I can only describe as putrid. The film also spends this final chunk of its running time with a montage that’s just useless.

Astrakan comes soon on OVID.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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