Film Review: ASTRAKAN: French Coming of Age Movie Loses its Way [Locarno 2022]

Movie

Mirko Giannini Astrakan

Astrakan Review

Astrakan (2022) Film Review from the 75th Annual Locarno Film Festival, a movie directed by David Depesseville and starring Mirko Giannini, Lisa Heredia, Bastien Bouillon, Cameron Bertrand, Nathael Bertrand, Theo Costa-Marini, Paul Blain, Lorine Delin and Jehnny Beth.

Astrakan is filmmaker David Depesseville’s coming-of-age story of a young boy in foster care who can’t catch a break. He is around the age of an early teenager and is named Samuel. He’s played with remarkable intensity by Mirko Giannini. Samuel is mistreated and abused and everything that could go right for him falls by the wayside in lieu of depressing situations which further complicate his already lackluster existence. It’s a hard film to watch and though there is good in it, it ultimately becomes weighed down by negativity.

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A major problem with the French movie is the female character around Samuel’s age the movie introduces to the audience. Her name is Helene (Lorine Delin) and just as they start to get ready to undress in her bedroom in what seems to be an innocuous way, Helene’s dad pulls them apart and reports to Samuel’s foster dad, Clement (Bastien Bouillon) that Samuel was abusing Helene. Yet, the two young characters seem to have a bond together and they do get back in each other’s presence with results that border on the ridiculous. They try to date and encounter a group of rude teenagers, they kiss on a bus during a field trip and, then, at a church service they both are in…well I won’t tell you what happens but it’s bad.

Jehnny Beth serves as foster mother Marie and she’s a peculiar character who chooses to mock Samuel rather than try to embrace his differences. Marie admits to just being in foster care for the extra income and has a professional man come to their home to try to make sense of Samuel even though Marie and Clement have no money. They proceed to give the said professional some coins to compensate him for his time. Whatever.

Although Samuel has interest in being a gymnast, the scenes portraying his passion aren’t that interesting, to be perfectly honest. Also featured in the movie is Theo Costa-Marini as Luc, Marie’s sort of a loser brother who seems more out of place than Samuel does in the movie. The film is full of complexity that is way too deep for the movie’s own good.

Marie displays her breasts towards the film’s conclusion holding a sheep close to her. This is an example of how deep the movie wants to be but it’s an empty film completely void of human emotion–for the most part anyway. Samuel is clearly the victim of abuse and the movie doesn’t know how to choose between sympathizing with him or the foster family.

David Depesseville had some great ideas here. What if a child was abused and could not find happiness in his life no matter how hard he tried? That would make a wonderful story for an emotional movie but I don’t think Depesseville is interested in that type of movie. He wants to make something profound and comes up with a picture that is artistically expressive but there’s not a lot of substance. We see Samuel watch adults have sex at one point but we don’t know what he is thinking. We’re never inside Samuel’s head and everything that happens seems to be from the view of an outsider. We never get in the mind of our main characters here.

Helene is another ill-conceived character. She’s well played by Delin but I didn’t know if she was supposed to be nice or not or whether Samuel was just too screwed up to know what to do in terms of his relationship with her. Astrakan left me with more questions than answers which normally isn’t a problem but when I don’t know how to feel about the characters I’ve been watching for over 95-minutes, there’s a major problem.

Astrakan is artsy and loses its way from finding its center through convoluted plot turns that make us want to sympathize with Samuel but the movie doesn’t let us. For whatever reason. Depesseville gets points for being different here but this movie is so bleak, I can’t imagine it will find much of an appreciative audience.

Rating: 5/10

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