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BFI London Film Festival 2012: 'Living' review

★★★★☆
Living (Zhit, 2012) is Vasily Sigarev's challenging and provocative follow-up to his acclaimed 2009 debut Wolfy, and sees this up-and-coming Russian director return to the London Film Festival. An existential and deeply philosophical insight into the psychological damage and various manifestations death can have on the mind, Living is a mesmerising and unique perspective on the grieving process. A young couple takes a train journey to elope together, a young boy stares longingly out his bedroom window waiting for his farther to return and a middle-aged woman sits excited, ready for the arrival of her daughters who were recently sent into care.

However, whilst their paths never cross, the lives of these individuals are all connected by the harsh reality of mortality - with each experiencing the trauma of death, yet dealing with its haunting implications in remarkably differing ways. Sigarev focuses on mortality without any contrived sentimentality, instead illuminating the subject with brutal honesty. Stark, powerfully imagery aligns with a brooding score to present his washed-out portraits of these traumatised souls.

The Russian filmmaker draws from the desolate backdrop of the grey tenement blocks of Yekaterinburg in order to frame his transcendental allegory for our unique and individual ways of handling grief. Illustrating the presence of death throughout our lives, Sigarev's distraught protagonists search for catharsis, attempting to find a way live with their despair. Aligning with contemporary Russian cinema's bleak criticism of modern society, it's also through Living's blunt realism that Sigarev flirts with ideas of the supernatural.

Each of the film's tales of loss are held together by the fascinating ways that respective parties each struggle to come to terms with the loss of a loved one. From ghostly apparitions, denial or medically-induced hallucinations, every individual suffers the same injustice, yet continue to search for hope in vastly different ways. Sigarev balances each perspective perfectly, flitting between narrative strands whilst maintaining the audience's attention throughout.

A fascinating insight into changing attitudes towards death, Living presents a society stuck in the crossroads between the decline of religious beliefs and the rise of spirituality. A metaphysical meditation on life, told through the morbid vantage point of three distressing tales, Sigarev's latest is a powerful example of thought-provoking new Russian cinema that lingers with you like the reverberations of a lost one.

The 56th BFI London Film Festival runs from 10-21 October. For more of our LFF coverage, simply follow this link.

Patrick Gamble

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