Ada (Milana Aguzarova), a deeply conflicted, vulnerable and troubled young Muslim woman – the protagonist in Kira Kovalenko’s Unclenching the Fists – is haunted by the past and oppressed by the present; she’s inextricably bound to her overbearing family, while furiously desirous of breaking free; she wants to explore her womanhood, but is held back by fear, shame and denial of agency. These complex dualities formed the crux of this bleak, lyrical and defiantly feminist film that, through its claustrophobic story, covered a woman’s aching cry for liberation amidst political violence, societal alienation and stifling patriarchy. Ada lives with her domineering, over-protective father (Alik Karaev) who she’s desperate to escape from, and her younger brother who’s disturbingly close to her, in the desolate former mining town of Mizur in Russia’s North Ossetia region. She pines for her elder brother (Soslan Khugaev), who’s relocated for work, to return and take her away, while also torn by the amorous overtures of a goofy loafer. Her social construct was further complicated by allusions to the Chechen-Russian conflict, and the 2004 Beslan school hostage tragedy in particular where the siege by Chechen rebels was crushed by the state with brutal iron-fist, leading to 333 deaths, including that of 186 children. Ada was one of the students who survived the bloody massacre; however, she still carries the painful physical scars and debilitating psychological trauma which has made it profoundly difficult for her to have physical intimacy with anyone. Aguzarova gave a stunningly assured, courageous and ferocious turn in this bold directorial work by the second student of celebrated filmmaker Alexander Sokurov – after her batchmate Kantemir Balagov who made Beanpole two years back – to achieve international recognition.
Director: Kira Kovalenko
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Family Drama