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NATASHA (Canada 2015) ***1/2
Directed by David Bezmozgis
Starring: Alex Ozerov, Deanna Dezmari, Genadijs Dolganovs
Review by Gilbert Seah
Written and directed by David Bezmozgis based on his short story, NATASHA tells the tale of the forbidden pre-teen romance between two Russian Immigrants living in the north of Toronto during one summer.
It all starts with Mark Berman’s (Alex Ozerov) uncle bringing over a new wife from Russia to Toronto. With the new wife comes baggage in the form of her young daughter, Natasha (Sasha K. Gordon). The new wife is not what she seems and neither is Natasha. Natasha hates her mother, calling her a whore. Natasha is not that innocent either, having participated in the sex industry in Russia. Mark is given the task of showing her around and a romance develops. Mark on the other hand, supplements his pocket money by selling pot in his neighbourhood.
Director Bezmozgis is a good story-teller His film is never boring and he fills his film with solid supporting characters from Mark’s family to the suspicious new immigrants. A lot of Russian atmosphere is also integrated into the story with a large portion of the dialogue spoken in Russian as well as in English.
NATASHA is also a film proudly Canadian. There are shots of northern Toronto where the film is set as well as shots of the Toronto Subway system and the ferry to the Centre Islands where Mark takes Natasha. The film feels and looks authentic and there are no false notes in the story. The catchy opening song and music adds to the film’s innovative feel.
A bit of philosophy is added for good measure. Mark reads German philosophy and some good message are offered to the audience. Natasha says that all of what she is told, she already knows, but Mark remarks that she knows only because it is said out aloud to her. So true. It is these little details that makes Bezmozgis’ film attentive.
The Russian content in the story and the fact that this is a dark tale involving young sex creates the atmosphere of a Vladimir Nabokov novel as in LOLITA and LAUGHTER IN THE DARK. Secrets are laid out into the open but are yet not apparently visible.
But the forbidden romance, incest upon consideration is not really incest as the the two overs are actually related through marriage and not blood. Still, the fact that the families trust the boy on looking after the 14-year old girl makes the sex forbidden. The sex scenes are kept at a minimum and within good taste while remaining quite erotic at the same time.
The two teen leads deliver quite good performances. Ironically both are young recent Russian immigrants like the characters they portray, Ozerov immigrating to Toronto and Gordon to the U.S. Ozerov is a young star to watch – young, sexy and brooding, already proving himself able to carry a lead in this film and in other films like the recent COCONUT HERO and A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY.
NATASHA is a well-made Canadian entry that deserves to be seen.
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