Deep Rivers


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Deep Rivers
"Bitokov develops the shifting, brooding relationships of the men well but other elements of the story are given short shrift." | Photo: Courtesy of Karlovy Vary International Film Festival

There's the tenor of a folktale about this story of a woodcutting family somewhere in the Caucasus mountains. Life is Grim(m) for this father, his two sons Muha and Bes and Bes's wife Zaiha and we could almost be in any wood at any time, where it not for the abrupt reminder to "Use your mobile phone" early on.

It may be the present day but things for the family are as old as the hills, including the physical labour required out in the forest, where the men use traditional axes rather than motorised saws. This is presumably for financial reasons, although given that this is their one source of income, you'd have thought it would be a first investment after what is, apparently, years in the trade. Traditions and old arguments also fester elsewhere, as we gather the family have been ostracised from the village, a situation made worse by more recent disputes.

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When the father has an accident, a third, younger son arrives back from the city to help - descending almost like an alien life form in his Obey baseball cap and leisurewear. What he encounters is a wall of toxic masculinity as strong and thrusting as one of the older trees in the forest - as the two older men, whose relationship to that point has been fractious, close ranks to bully the 'newcomer'.

Writer/director Vladimir Bitokov is one of several young filmmakers from the North Caucus region to receive mentorship from Russian Ark director Alexander Sokurov at the Kabardino-Balkarian University - with other alumni including Closeness director Kantemir Balagov - and his programme has certainly succeeded in bringing different regions and new voices to the screen. Bitokov develops the shifting, brooding relationships of the men well but other elements of the story are given short shrift, so that though the mood is triumphant, the plight of the family matters less than it should.

Reviewed on: 07 Mar 2019
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A stark landscape, unforgiving surroundings, gruelling work, and intense conflicts within the family circle – a vicious circle, the burden of which is only accentuated by the return of the youngest brother, who is to take the place of his sick father in this family of lumberjacks.

Director: Vladimir Bitokov

Writer: Vladimir Bitokov

Starring: Oleg Guseynov, Muhamed Sabiev, Tahir Teppeev, Rustam Muratov

Year: 2018

Runtime: 75 minutes

Country: Russia

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