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An open familial love

In the complex 'Father and Son,' passionate, erotic images intensify a tale of affection.

June 25, 2004|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

Alexander Sokurov's "Father and Son" is about as atypical a parent-child relationship drama as can be imagined. In its ambiguous, elliptical opening sequence, two men, naked to the waist, are glimpsed in cropped images that are sexually suggestive. It would seem that what is actually happening is that a father (Andrei Shetinin) is comforting his son (Alexei Neimyshev), who is plagued by chronic nightmares.

There's no denying the intensity of passion, however, that exists between the two, and it's not surprising that some viewers have compared the actors to models in "a homoerotic Bruce Weber spread." But it's not for nothing that Sokurov's mentor was the master mystic Andrei Tarkovsky. "Father and Son" is a sensual and romantic film, accompanied by passages from Tchaikovsky on the soundtrack, but it is also complex.

It is a stylized fable with visual impact. The father, who was not yet 20 when he became a parent, and his son, who looks to be in his late teens, share a picturesque garret in an ancient building near the sea. (The city is actually Lisbon, here shot in shimmering grays in contrast to the warm tones in which it is usually filmed.) The father, a former military man now in the reserves, and the clean-cut son, a military academy student, both possess muscular physiques. Sokurov celebrates male physicality throughout and in exercise and wrestling sequences in particular. As suggestive as the film is, it also manages to exude a quality of innocence.

Widowed early, the father sees his beloved late wife in his son, which has nurtured a lifelong closeness between the two. They are open in their expression of love, yet throughout the film there's a growing undercurrent of the son's natural impulse to separate from his father and establish his own identity, no matter how painful. Although there is considerable dialogue, the film is as physically expressive as a silent movie, and the actors' movements and gestures are as eloquent as Sokurov's gift for beautifully composed, flowing imagery.

As sexually provocative as the film seems, at least on the surface, it emerges as a celebration of love between father and son untrammeled by the oppressiveness of puritanical guilt. Nothing much happens by way of plot in the course of "Father and Son," but it offers a fresh and often startling vision of one of the most fundamental relationships between human beings.

"Father and Son" is the second film in a planned family trilogy that began with "Mother and Son" (1997), an experiment rich in color, texture and distorted imagery in which a young man lovingly cares for his dying mother, and is to conclude with "Two Brothers and a Sister." Having made 12 features since 1978, Sokurov is known primarily for his next most recent film, "Russian Ark," in which a modern-day filmmaker is transported to the 18th century in a dazzling contemplation of 300 years of Russian history.


'Father and Son'

MPAA rating: Unrated

Times guidelines: Considerable sensuality, brief nudity

Andrei Shetinin...Father

Alexei Neimyshev...Son

Alexander Rasbash...Sasha

Marina Zasukhina ...Girl

A Wellspring release of a Zero Film and Lumen Film production in cooperation with Len Film. Director Alexander Sokurov. Producer Thomas Kufus. Screenplay by Serguey Potepalov. Cinematographer Alexander Burov. Editor Sergey Ivanov. Composer Andrey Sigle; music based on themes by Peter Tchaikovsky. Costumes Bernadette Corstens. Art director Natalya Kochergina. In Russian with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes.

Exclusively at the Nuart through Thursday, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 281-8223.

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