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The Auteurs Daily: NYFF. A Room and a Half

The Auteurs Daily

A Room and a Half

"For all its flights of cinematic fantasy," begins Andrew Schenker in Slant, "the dominant note struck by A Room and a Half, Andrey Khrzhanovsky's recreation-cum-fantasia of the life of poet Joseph Brodsky, is a melancholy borne of separation. The film brims forth with joyous bits of invention (such as a sequence where pianos, horns, and harps float above snowy St Petersburg), mixes in handcrafted animated bits where cats and birds stand in for the people in Brodsky's life, and peppers the poet's lyrics across its soundtrack, but for all its whimsical creations, a sense of loss is never far from the surface."

"It is a grand act of ventriloquism," writes Eric Hynes in Reverse Shot, "with Khrzhanovksy marshaling the artifices of memory and history to conjure a vaguely factual, deeply felt mythology. There's some Brodsky here, for sure, but the film is less persuasive as biopic than as a fever-dream conflation of director and subject, observation and contemplation, tactile specificity and metaphorical sweep. A grandiloquent matroshka doll, it locates within the exiled poet layers of art, family, country, and culture - interiors writ oddly large and impersonal."

"Khrzhanovsky directs his first (mostly) live-action feature, at age 69, as if it were his own last testament," writes Steven Boone at the House Next Door. "It's fitting to mention Tarkovsky because Khrzhanovsky's use of diverse color palettes, wondrously weathered faces, natural (or naturalistic) lighting schemes and physical spaces given fleshy, filthy presence could be outtakes from Tarkovsky's The Mirror. But Khrzhanovsky is not the primal cosmonaut that Tarkovsky was, probing the darker, scarier outer limits of memory. Nah, Khrzhanovsky's too warm and friendly for all that. His nostalgia views Brodsky's formative hardship and terrors (i.e. surviving the Siege of Leningrad as a toddler) through eyes that have lived long enough to make some kind of sense of it all."

"[I]t's the film's frequent episodes of Pythonesque animation - Russian director Andrey Khrzhanovskiy has years of experience as an illustrator - that are the most emotionally taxing," finds Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York.

For James Hansen, aside from those "bits of animation, A Room and a Half feels wholly uninspired, making its never-ending over-obvious reflexive musings on time, space, and memory slightly infuriating."

Online listening tip. The Film Talk.

NYFF 09: Index; full coverage.


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