The Whaler Boy

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Whaler Boy
"All the while, Yuryev keeps us married to Leshka's experience, even flipping us over to view the world in the same topsy-turvy way he does."

The distance between the most easterly point of Russia and Alaska in the US is simultaneously about 53 miles and an entire world away so far as teenager Leshka (Vladimir Onokhov) is concerned. A window between Leshka's Chukchi  island community, where he lives with grandfather (Nikolai Tatato), is opened by an erotic website, where girls gyrate for the camera - a clever piece of opening camerawork and editing which travels from the back street set-up in America via a computer screen to Leshka's village helping us to feel both the yawning gap and the connection between the two.

The poor internet connection may mean "Hollysweet999" is a pixelated dream girl, but that doesn't stop the 15-year-old from falling for her charms. Debut director Philipp Yuryev treads a careful tragicomic line as Leshka becomes increasingly obsessed with this candy-lipsticked girl who offers the promise of something completely different from the whaling life he is part of. The more worrying implications of this are initially hidden beneath humour as Leshka tries out some of his newly learned English on Holly - "You are beautiful", "a dog", "a grapefruit"..."I like your big blue face".

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Gradually, Yuryev - whose film took the top prize at Venice Days and will screen in the US's Russian Film Week - allows the more melancholic elements to glint through the surface, there's a yearning here that can't be filled by Leshka's friendship with best mate Kolyan (Vladimir Lyubimtsev). A yearning that prompts Leshka to tip over the edge at the same time as taking him on an eventful, offbeat coming-of-age journey in search of "Ditroit" that may not quite lead to the destination he is dreaming of.

All the while, Yuryev keeps us married to Leshka's experience, even flipping us over to view the world in the same topsy-turvy way he does as he and Kolyan hang from a pair of playground bars. The director and cinematographers Mikhail Khursevich and Yakov Mironichev also use aerial photography to emphasise the community's isolation, while paradoxically bringing home the community co-operation needed to kill and butcher a whale. The slightly skewed viewpoint is further emphasised by a soundtrack featuring the country-inflected music Leshka's grandfather dances to when he's not incorrectly claiming he's about to die and other offbeat choices, including The Beach Boys. From start to end, it's Leshka's view that matters and his perspective that begins to subtly shift as he finds himself looking at his life from an unexpected angle.

Reviewed on: 03 Jan 2021
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The Whaler Boy packshot
A teenager embarks on an unexpected journey after becoming obsessed with an erotic webcam girl.

Director: Philipp Yuryev

Writer: Philipp Yuryev

Starring: Vladimir Onokhov, Kristina Asmus, Vladimir Lyubimtsev, Nikolay Tatato, Arieh Worthalter, Maria Chuprinskaia

Year: 2020

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: Russia, Poland, Belgium

Festivals:

Venice 2020

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