Core of the World

Sometimes, we try so hard to escape our past that we end up right where we started. The scenery and the people may have changed, but the circumstances are just what we were trying to avoid. We can’t escape from ourselves, though, and since we’re the ones drawn to certain situations, we’ll end up there whether we like it or not. Writer/director Nataliya Meshchaninova attempts to examine this paradox in Core of the World with extremely uneven results.

“… wants so badly to get away from his abusive, alcoholic mother, he works as a veterinarian for an animal breeder…”

Egor (Stepan Devonin) wants so badly to get away from his abusive, alcoholic mother; he works as a veterinarian for an animal breeder deep in the Russian woods. His upbringing made him awkward around people, but he connects well with the animals. His boss is kind of a dick, though likable, and accepts Egor as a valued employee. He’s involved in a variation of fox chasing, in which the dogs chase the foxes through homemade wooden tunnels, and the foxes aren’t killed, though this has drawn the attention of animal rights activists outside the farm gates. For better or worse, Egor has made this his surrogate family, but soon questions this decision when things start reminding him of his childhood.

Like most Russian films, the photography is simply gorgeous. Meshchaninova captures both the forest and the animals so that they almost become auxiliary characters themselves. At times, it seems like there isn’t a single scene without an animal, whether it’s a dog, fox, goat or goose. The forest, like Egor, is dark and mysterious and can either be protective or dangerous depending on what is happening.

“…captures both the forest and the animals so that they almost become auxiliary characters themselves.”

Unfortunately, there just isn’t enough going on to make it all worthwhile. While it usually takes Russian films a while to get to the point, this one never really seems to get there and ends up being a drag that you want to end. The characters aren’t interesting, and they don’t do anything interesting. Stepan Devonin, as well as the rest of the cast, does an excellent job playing a guy with no personality. The problem is, people without personalities are boring. Even a potentially fruitful encounter with the boss’ adult daughter just comes off as predictable and contrived. The same can be said for the subplot with the activists.

There’s a faction of filmmakers that strives to emanate real life in their art and end up putting the audience to sleep. Core of the World is like that. It’s so true to life that it ends up a complete dud.

Core of the World (2019) Directed by Nataliya Meshchaninova. Written by Nataliya Meshchaninova, Stepan Devonin, and Boris Khlebnikov. Starring Stepan Devonin, Dmitriy Podnozov, Yana Sekste, Ekaterina Vasiljeva, Vitya Ovodkov, and Evgeniy Sytyy. Core of the World screened at the 2019 San Francisco International Film Festival.

4 out of 10 stars

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