In the superb new Soviet movie "Farewell" (at the Fox International through Thursday) we see a dying island through the eyes of the people who must leave it forever. It's a story about the death of a community, done with mournful, elegiac grace and haunting intensity.
The island is Matyora--about to be evacuated and flooded for a new hydroelectric plant, its community and traditions interrupted or erased. Through much of the movie you see Matyora as the evacuees do: a vanishing homeland. The colors are sometimes fiery, sometimes smoky and dim. The trees are in sunlight or wreathed in mists, the fields somber under a hard sky, the last crops that will ever be harvested waving gently in the wind, and, symbolically and figuratively towering above, a massive, ancient, gnarled tree: stubbornly resisting all the chain saws, bulldozers and flames set to destroy it.
At first, the poignancy is mixed with revels. Some are brooding; others turn the wake into a harvest bacchanal. Then, when fire and rain intervene, the festivities begin to drift. Violent incidents erupt. One local supervisor of the exodus rages against his superior. Finally, only a few bitter rebels are left: a group of old women, one of them (magnificently played by Stefania Stanyuta) the mother of the contrite supervisor, huddled together on the last, foggy morning of the due to be put to the torch. She brings it to spotless perfection, and then, with her neighbors, sets heaps of flowers on the tables and floor--an absurd, grand gesture. There is nothing that can save her home, the graves of her family, the trees and fields that surrounded her since childhood. But, defiantly, she leaves it as she wants it: beautiful, a small citadel against encroaching darkness and death.