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The children can be problematic in the same way as their parents and guardians. These ideas are incorporated with a touch of art into David Depesseville’s first narrative feature, which will be released on Friday, Sep. 1, Astrakan is French Impressionism at its best, marking the moment when the film discloses the title secret in its third act – it has smooth cinematography that is sometimes slow but emotional. The movie covers some poignant sequences of a young orphanage boy named Samuel (Mirko Giannini) that often tend to get under your skin like works by Francois Truffaut (The 400 Blows) or even fit a Wes Anderson film – I am looking at you, Moonrise Kingdom.

However, this isn’t exactly commercial-grade project. But sometimes, less is more — and here, the simple yet lush 16mm film component allows Astrakan to really shine.

To begin with, some words about French Impressionism—something of a landmark movement—most typically associated with painting but also applied to early French cinema of the 1920s. They were explicitly French and aesthetically groundbreaking films by directors such as Louis Delluc and Abel Gance that hadn’t followed linear plot lines featuring dreams or inner monologues or action driven by morals or motivations.

In Astrakan we root for Samuel, who is an orphan sent to live with his foster parents, Marie (Jehnny Beth – great) and Clement (Bastien Bouillon also good in another recent french film called Night of the Twelve). This coming-of-age period must have been hard for Samuel because he himself was fighting his own demons while discovering that his guardians are no better off than him. We find out early on that Mr. and Mrs Clement are in dire financial straits; they barely manage to scrape up enough money so gifted Samuel can join gym classes at community recreation centre. Even though he promises not to, Clement also hits Samuel physically.

This is the reason why it is easy to love Samuel who makes a lot of trouble. He gets attached romantically to Hélène (Lorine Delin) one of his classmates; Giannini and Delin both have great futures ahead of them; what is even more interesting though are their performances and on-screen chemistry that were just superb. But let’s not forget that Samuel is something like a “bad boy.” For example, in another scene in the movie, he jumps out into a busy road intentionally.

At another point, he climbs up into a dangerous tree which he shouldn’t be near and then falls down but nothing severe happens to him. That seems quite reminiscent of Harold and Maude when Marie walks in only for Samuel to pretend he died by drowning himself with ketchup one day. First they take him to some kind of quack hypnotist or something like that but it doesn’t help at all. The filmmaker plays this as dark comedy without having to use music or any other sound effect for instance.

Furthermore, they go together with Samuel to the church where he does however play around with fire literally speaking. Then, Marie and Clement dump Samuel with their relatives on a nearby farm so that we see what actually happens there in the end – Luc (played by Théo Costa-Marini) appears briefly leaving some suspense about him as far as his relationship with Samu goes: fascinatingly mysterious and slightly menacing too. However Luc has very few lines but still manages to steal the show every time

It should be noted, however, that the people around Samuel are not playing fair either. Besides getting beaten by his father at home, Samuel also suffers from an assault by a gang of young thugs at the local theater. In addition, Samuel’s class has a skiing trip where an Olympic athlete who is to address and inspire children is later seen having sex with their teacher. Of course, it is Samuel who stumbles upon this revelation. Therefore we can see that such a society does not negate Samuel’s defiant spirit hence we cannot help but support him each time he seems to fail himself.

And all of this shot on 16mm film adds to its lush look that heightens its raw but sometimes ethereal impressionist air. The movie reaches its climax in the last section when Bach’s music uses most of the audio while it ends up as artistic montage in a musical number by Bach. While on a family camping trip foster mom Marie, always striving for survival over raising Samuel encounters a little lamb –and that’s how the film’s name comes back into view again. Naked Marie tenderly embraces the little furry friend whereas nearby Samuel appears to have found his own path.

Only partially so, yet we don’t necessarily need a happy ending for this kid. Thanks to Depesseville’s bold direction there is somehow assurance about Samuel’s well-being.

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