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Little Orphan Vanya? Not by a long shot

January 15, 2007|Susan King

"The Italian," a Russian drama opening Friday, paints a disturbingly gloomy portrait of the post-Soviet Union's countless orphans.

Directed by Andrei Kravchuk, "The Italian" revolves around Vanya (Kolya Spiridonov), a young boy living at a run-down country orphanage who has been adopted by an Italian couple. But instead of relishing the fact that he'll soon be leaving the snowy Russian countryside for the warmth and sun of Italy, Vanya decides he'd rather find his birth mother.

With help from some of the older orphans -- several of whom are involved in the black market and as prostitutes to make money -- Vanya escapes the facility to search for his mother. Not far behind him though is the unscrupulous orphan broker (Maria Kuznetsova), who has made a fortune selling children to the highest bidder.

"The Italian," which was released in Russia in 2005 under the title "Italianetz," is based on a true story about a 6-year-old boy who fled his orphanage and eventually found the woman who had abandoned him.

"After the breakup of the Soviet Union, adoption became a business," Kravchuk said via e-mail. "Therefore, corruption growth was inevitable. Then, after some grave scandals, the rules for adoption became more complicated. Now adoption by foreign parents is possible only with permission of the court."

Kravchuk said "The Italian" is not a condemnation of foreign couples adopting Russian children. "I was trying to show life and problems of provincial Russia," he explained.

The cast features few professional actors. "Almost all the children came from orphanages," Kravchuk said. "We shot in real orphanages. The feeling of true life on screen was essential for me."

He auditioned 500 children until he found Kolya, who has been acting since 2003. "But even then, I was very uncertain that he would work out since he was very uneasy at the film test. Still, I took the risk and it was the right choice."

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-- Susan King

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