In Limbo | 2021 Warsaw International Film Festival Review
Fetch the Bolt Cutters: Khant Crafts a Story of Liberation, Love and Loss
The relevance of tragic teenage love story is packaged with a touch of modernity in Alexander Khant’s second feature film In Limbo, an emotionally-charged and emotion-eliciting portrayal of rebellious teenagers in love which tugs at your heartstrings at all the right moments. What elevates Khant’s work above your average coming-of-age drama is the inkling of political awareness manifesting itself throughout the film.
The screenplay, co-written by Khant and Vladislav Malakhov, tells the story of two fifteen-year-olds, Sasha (Jenia Vinogradova) and Danny (Igor Ivanov), both living within stifling family dynamics. Her existence is one overshadowed by the presence of strict stepfather Victor (Konstantin Gatsalov), a policeman who seems to always be at the end of his tether. Danny’s mother, the familiar figure of your Avon lady who lives in a flower-print camouflaged flat nearby, is smothering her son with attentiveness and quivery affection. The teenagers meet at a house party, have sex, and are caught in the act by her parents. Victor is fuming and his reaction is a final breaking point for Sasha, who decides to escape. In a first vivid example of role reversal, Danny asks Sasha to take him with her – he’s in love.
Soon enough, Sasha will rightfully join the ranks of charismatic and fleshed-out heroines, the resolute Lady Birds of cinema. Shots like the one of her driving a wrecked Range Rover as Danny naps in the passenger’s seat testify to the film’s commitment to erase traditional gender roles. She’s behind the wheel. Danny sometimes follows in her footsteps, other times leads the way, but as a rule, he co-exists with Sasha, and it does take appreciation of the storytelling craft to entwine their stories in such a balanced way.
What will eventually follow is elating mischief, inspired naughtiness like in the scene when the couple invades a market in youthful fervor that’s contagious to the audience, stealing every piece of clothing they can get their hands on. Theirs is a project that starts in a peripheral bistro where Sasha declares a ‘revolution’ (accordingly, a close-up of the customers’ and staff’ apprehensive looks follows) and progresses as a resounding, subversive project of social system disruption that will end in pitiful and violent circumstances somewhere in the quiet seclusion of the frosty Russian forests.
Natalya Makarova’s alert cinematographic work transports us inside the teenagers’ world. A harmonious colour palette, lush lightning, detailed interior design, all contribute to its distinctive visuals, resulting in a film that’s crafted but still breathes life: it seems to match our memories and retroactive ideas of teenagehood. Not merely grounded in realism, Khant’s vision of youth reflects our subjective outlooks.
In Limbo is a welcome disruption of formulaic coming-of-age stories. The payoff is rousing thanks to a refreshingly humane treatment of each character, skittish humour and expressive performances. Add into the mix how it immediately proves itself with its cinematography, production design and faultlessly scouted locations, and it makes for one of the more bewitching revolutions we can bear witness to.
Reviewed on October 13th at the 2021 Warsaw International Film Festival – Competition 1-2 Section. 111 mins. Part of the The Fipresci Warsaw Critics Project.