“Kseniya, Warrior Princess.”
Firstly, a quick note on the title here, which is a little odd. The subtitles call it August ’08, which would make more sense, since it’s based on the spat that month between Russia and Georgia over the territory of South Ossetia, which had seceded from Georgia with Russian backing. Fortunately, you don’t need to know much about the murky geopolitical climate, though this is firmly entrenched on the side of the Russian “peacekeepers,” so probably should be be relied upon for accuracy [I note it was banned in the Ukraine]. The heroine is Kseniya (Ivanova), a single mom who packs her son Artyom (Fadeev) off to be with dad, so she can go on a trip with her new boyfriend. Unfortunately, father is a soldier stationed near the border; when things kick off down there, communications with the outside world are all but cut. Kseniya embarks on a perilous mission through the war-torn landscape to retrieve Artyom, with the aid of recon commander Lyoha (Matveev). Artyom, meanwhile, retreats into the fantasy world he has constructed to deal with the trauma, in which he is the hero, CosmoBoy, fighting with the aid of a giant robot against the evil Darklord.
Fairly epic in scale, this does a particularly good job at depicting the hellish nature of battle, in particular the urban kind, where snipers and other threats potentially lurk in every window. It’s also effective when portraying Kseniya’s devotion to Artyom, and her willingness to take any risk to reach him, albeit driven in part by guilt over the poor initial choice to ship him off. While the CGI initially seems a bit ropey, it makes more sense when you realize it’s a child’s imagination, and the production values are generally high-quality. The film’s weakest section is probably the middle, where Kseniya takes a back seat, literally hanging on to Lyoha’s belt and following him on a mission to rescue refugees trapped by the conflict (like I said, “peacekeepers”…), I’d rather have seen her continue as the courageous and self-dependent woman she is, both in the early going, and during the rousing finale, as she makes her way through what’s described as the most dangerous three miles in the world.
Still, even when the movie forgets its action heroine tendencies, it’s a solid piece of war cinema, that easily sustains its 132 minute running-time. Currently available on Netflix, this is the kind of unexpected find that makes having the service worthwhile. For I’d almost certainly have missed it otherwise, and that would have been a shame, since the performances and overall quality are generally more than up to Western standards.
Dir: Dzhanik Fayziev
Star: Svetlana Ivanova, Maksim Matveev, Artyom Fadeev, Aleksey Guskov