Ivanna is old enough to be a first time parent but she, a member of the Nenets people of Western Siberia, already has five. And as reductive as it is, the documentary Live of Ivanna is equally about her and her children. The children, ranging from the ages of 1 to 10, have some of the privileges of modern life, and the movie focuses on what they have and what they don’t have. Most scenes just have the director plopping the camera inside their trailer. And at one of those scenes, the children use a chamber pot and work like it’s nothing.
Ivanna’s not just a typical family woman, regardless of her ethnicity. The documentary gives enough of her back story, like meeting her future husband, Gena, who was a boy her family adopted. It also shows her stint at boarding school where the teachers discovered her potential as a singer. It eventually explains the Nenets’ people’s relationship with the boarding school system. But just as quickly, the movie plops back down to the minutiae and mundanity of Ivanna’s life. She does her chores. And the lack of context can be occasionally frustrating especially since these subjects collectively deserve better introductions.
Gena shows up in this documentary, which makes it as good of a time for the movie to capture his conflict heavy relationship with Ivanna. She packs up the Nenets’ version of a mobile home and comes to him. And eventually they end up drinking and having fights that start on camera. The film slightly indulges on these scenes, even if it pulls back when those fights last too long. As I write this, though, it toes the line between raw and exploitative. And penultimate scenes have the right mix of haunting and hopeful for a woman and her children.