White Feast

on April 30, 1997 by Lael Loewenstein
   Like a time-released capsule, "White Feast" has a curious impact: The mpression it leaves on you after viewing is much stronger than the experience while watching it. You walk away feeling moved, yet for almost its entire 97 minutes you're trying to decipher a string of sometimes wordless and inexplicable images.
   The story, set in an unnamed Russian city, follows an old man, known simply as the Professor (Innokenty Smok-tunovsky), who approaches a local detective (Armen Dzhigarhanyan) to track someone—himself. The detective is to follow him, noting his every action, without asking questions. In a single day, the men trek through the city, visiting a bath house, a local open-air market, and a brothel where the Professor inds the daughter (a stunning Natalia Naumova) he lost contact with some time before. br>   Long stretches of action are silent, but director Vladimir Naumov and cinematographer Lomer Akhvlediany convey through metaphors the dilemma of a Russian populace struggling to define its identity in a country awash with change. Their symbols become clear: the Professor's imless wanderings, the long dark coat he will not shed—even in the bath house, his attraction to the densely populated and chaotic paintings of Breughel and Bosch. In a city eroding with decay yet blanketed with snow, the people are taunted by the deceptive mirage of capitalism and forced, ultimately, to assess their shattered dreams just as the professor assesses his own.
   With hushed, poetic and indelible images—like the films of Tarkovsky, Antonioni and Angelopoulos ("Ulysses' Gaze"), with whom writer Tonino Guerra has collaborated—"White Feast" quietly haunts you.    Starring Innokenty Smoktunovsky, Natalia Naumova and Armen Dzhigarhanyan. Directed by Vladimir Naumov. Written by Tonino Guerra and Vladimir Naumov. Produced by Vladimir Naumov and Alexandre Voulfov. No distributor set. Drama. Russian-language; subtitled. Not yet rated. Running time: 97 min. Screened at the San Francisco fest.
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