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Running Time:
1 hour, 39 minutes

Rating: PG-13 Parents Strongly Cautioned.

Rating Explanation:
for some violence, sexual content, language and thematic issues

Jimmy's Buzz Guide Review:
This is an absorbing modern fairy tale about adoption and life in contemporary Russia.

The Italian
Set in a rundown orphanage run by a good-hearted man (Yuri Itskov) who struggles daily to balance his desperate need for money with his obvious affection for the children, all of whom seem to have developed friendships and seem to be enjoying their lives. The film's main character is Vanya (Kolya Spiridonov), a six-year-old with the maturity of one who has been on his own for a long time. Like many kids who have to fend for themselves at an early age, he is treated as an equal by the older kids who seem to be in charge much of the time. Vanya carries himself with tremendous confidence and self-awareness. He and his best friend even get into discussions about the use of adopted Russian children for "spare parts."

Early in the film, Vanya is chosen to meet an Italian couple who have come to the orphanage to adopt a son. Dressed in his best clothes, eyes filled with anticipation and fear, Vanya introduces himself to the couple. The Italian couple are charmed and agree to come back in a few weeks to make the adoption official. Vanya soon becomes known as "The Italian" to his envious friends, and he seems happy contemplating his new life. But when the birth mother of a recently-adopted friend appears at the orphanage, trying to reclaim the son she abandoned, Vanya begins to worry. What if his mother comes to find him, and he's already gone to Italy? Despite the attempts of the other kids to convince Vanya that mothers don't usually come back for their kids, he decides that he has to find his mother, even if it means losing the Italian family. So he takes off by train, bus, and on foot, using whatever experience he's accumulated in his six years in the orphanage.

Director Andrei Kravchuk (who's only made a number of short films and documentaries) has found the perfect star in young Kolya Spiridonov who makes his first screen appearance in the film. He has the ability to appear simultaneously adult and childlike, rubbing his tired eyes with clenched fists one minute and making up creative lies for strangers the next. Those eyes are wonderful, huge and expressive, always touched by fear but also capable of humor, confusion and surprising understanding. The film is memorable for its constant, unexpected air of affection, and for the determined little boy at its center. It also beautifully depicts the ambiguous state of post-Glasnost Russia.

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