THE ITALIAN (Andrei Kravchuk). 99 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (February 2). For venues and times, see Movies, page 85. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
The Italian is a good movie, but it's not exactly ideal mid-winter viewing, especially for the S.A.D.-inclined.
Six-year-old Vanya (a remarkably natural and engaging Kolya Spiridonov ) lives in a Russian orphanage stuck beside a slushy, muddy highway that perestroika forgot. (See what I mean?)
This Dickensian bleak house is ruled by two warring factions, a corrupt headmaster who illegally sells his younger charges to childless foreigners for a few extra dollars, and a gang of older orphans involved in petty thievery and prostitution.
As dreary as this is, Vanya is a budding optimist. When he's given the chance to live a more pampered life with well-to-do Italian adoptive parents, he instead sets out to find his birth mother, pursued by a Klebbish orphan broker (a suitably scary Maria Kuznetsova ) and her buffoonish yet brutal henchman.
The Italian was filmed at a real orphanage, and many of the key roles were played by its residents, lending a thick, mucky layer of realism to the proceedings. The result is dreary yet heartening (though hardly heart-warming), with an amazingly affecting performance by Spiridonov.