Film Review: Masha – Russian Film Festival

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writer and Director: Anastasiya Palchikova

Life inside a criminal gang is the subject of Anastasiya Palchikova’s debut film Masha showing as part of the Russian Film Festival via the BFI Player. Told from the perspective of a 12-year-old girl, how little she knows of her uncle’s real business where the contrast with the domestic and coming-of-age themes motor a film in which women are ornamental, burdensome or sweet children in need of protection but unable to escape from the codes of loyalty and dedication to the family firm that confines them.

At 12-years-old wannabe singer Masha is the apple of her uncle’s eye and beloved by the men in his service who try to protect her. When Masha meets Sergey at school, he becomes swept up in the world of violent men, and as the lives of her companions become clearer to her, Masha fears for the his safety while relishing the power that comes with being Uncle’s niece, much to her mother’s frustration when Lena decides it’s time to leave.

For about three-quarters of its 1 hour and 30-minute running time, Masha is a gripping story about the blindness of childhood and how ordinary it can feel to grow up in a crime family if you have never known anything else. Watching Masha navigate her rapidly changing body and the increasingly inappropriate, although never overt, reactions from the much older men is uncomfortable and in her summer clothes, the early sexualisation of girls is a background to the protective but dubious motive of the men around her.

This feeds into the way other women in the film are treated, be it Tanya who teaches Masha to sing but finds herself passed between the men with little choice, or the tragic Lena (Iris Lebedeva) whose failed marriage and domineering brother colour her outlook, creating a depression that, for now, her daughter Masha fails to notice. The grim reality contrasts beautifully with the highly romantic songs that Tanya and Masha sing, especially the soulful Etta James number At Last, a song about finding true love, the hollowness of which fails to register with the younger girl.

But in its final 20-minutes Palchikova fails to bring some of these more interesting strands to a conclusion, focusing instead on a dramatic revenge outcome that may solve everyone’s problems but doesn’t quite ring true. A little more focus on those hyper-sexualised reactions to a young Masha and how the ambiguity of male responses affect her would serve the film far better than it’s c.15 years later appendix which gives in too easily.

Polina Gukhman is great as Masha, full of wide-eyed innocence but on the cusp of changes that make her more aware of her body. Gukhman captures the dawning realisation of who she really is and the consequences, retaining a connection to the dreamlife she still wants to believe in, even when Uncle (Maksim Sukhanov) and his henchman largely behave like cartoon villains. An interesting and thoughtful look at the domestic side of gang violence, Masha offers a strong and unusual female perspective.

Masha is screening as part of the Russian Film Festival on BFI Player from 12 November -10 December.

The Reviews Hub Score

Strong and unusual

The Reviews Hub - Film

The Reviews Hub Film Team is under the editorship of Maryam Philpott.

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