NZIFF 2021: Разжимая кулаки Razzhimaya Kulaki (Unclenching the Fists, 2021)

This tough little Russian film screening at Whānau Mārama – New Zealand International Film Festival won a prize at Cannes thanks to Andrea Arnold’s jury, and I think there’s a lot to commend it, even if I didn’t fully connect with it. I think there’s a lot going on that could resonate pretty powerfully for those who tune into its specific vibe — though it’s a fairly bleak one.


The more I think about this film in retrospect the more I have some respect for what it’s trying to do, but certainly while it was playing out, I found it quite a tough watch. This is not so much because of what we see on screen, but the fact that it centres on Ada, a character who is largely hollowed out by childhood trauma. As the source of this pain becomes clearer (and I gather from other reviews that this is much less oblique to native audiences, who will be more aware of the Beslan school siege of 2004), it also makes the behaviour of other characters a little more explicable, like her controlling dad (Alik Karayev) or her hyperactive younger brother (Soslan Khugayev). But it doesn’t change the fact that the lead actor (Milana Aguzarova) has to convey a character who is withdrawn from the world and often frustratingly passive in her dealings with other people, meaning there’s not much for a viewer to latch onto and so this story set in an impoverished part of North Ossetia just ended up washing over me. However, as I said, I do think the story its telling is quite complex and interesting and may work better on a second viewing.

Razzhimaya Kulaki (2021) posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Kira Kovalenko Киры Коваленко; Cinematographer Pavel Fomintsev; Starring Milana Aguzarova Милана Агузарова, Alik Karayev Алик Караев, Soslan Khogayev Сослан Хугаев; Length 97 minutes.
Seen at the Roxy, Wellington, Wednesday 17 November 2021.