Unclenching the Fists – Caucasian Captivity Drama

REVIEW
Alexander Sokurov's students are once again conquering the Cannes Film Festival. This year, the film Unclenching the Fists (2021) by Kira Kovalenko, a young director from Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria, became a winner in the Un Certain Regard category. Kira is a former university classmate and current beloved of Kantemir Balagov, who has also been Cannes' favourite several times with his Closeness in 2017 and Beanpole in 2019 (for both of which he received the FIPRESCI prize).
by Ira Belousenko


19/09/2021
It is impossible to deny that to some extent Closeness and Unclenching the Fists are closely intertwined, not only by the plot and the place of action, but also by the set of problems they are discussing. According to Kantemir Balagov, such works open up for the world a whole new genre called the "Caucasian neorealism". Movies from once "distant" in its mentality Caucasus, are gradually beginning to raise universal questions that are more or less familiar to the people from any place in the world. Nevertheless, despite the frequently emphasized similarity with Closeness, Kira Kovalenko presents a completely new − female − view on the issues associated with life in this region.

Unclenching the Fists tells the story of Adadza (Milana Aguzarova), a young woman from a small town of Mizur in North Ossetia. Adadza has two brothers − Dakko (Khetag Bibilov) and Akim (Soslan Khugaev), the second of whom has literally run away to another city from the all-controlling father of the family − Zaur (Alik Karaev). One day Akim returns to his hometown and Adadza, who has been continuously planning her escape, finally has an actual chance to escape for a better life with the help of her brother.
The very name of the movie refers to the debut film of an Italian director Marco Bellocchio, Fists in the Pocket (1965), the main character of which also finds himself under pressure from a family and circumstances. However, Kira Kovalenko claims that the trajectories of the movies differ significantly. Mainly because Bellocchio depicted the active fight against the established system, and Kovalenko on the other hand showed despair and cessation of any counteraction.

The film was shot entirely in the Ossetian language with minor inserts in Russian. The director herself explains such a choice with a desire to dive into the national character of the inhabitants of North Ossetia as deeply as possible. Even the actors for the most part are non-professional – Unclenching the First has become their first experience in cinema. This move was made by Kira Kovalenko with intention to create the effect of an organic and natural narration, as if the viewer is not watching the movie on the screen, but indeed lives this story and exists in the same space as the characters.
In her numerous interviews, Kira Kovalenko openly said how important it was for her to convey to the audience the stories of Caucasian women who found themselves in a situation of tough opposition to the patriarchal system of values. In this sense, Unclenching the Fists is a really strong work, since it tells about the conditions of social injustice that modern women still have to live in in some regions of Russia with accuracy and painful honesty.
Succumbing to stereotypes about an obedient Caucasian woman, Adadza is considered to be the lowest in the family hierarchy. Her opinions are not taken into account neither by her father, who forces her to pour "inappropriate" perfume into the kitchen sink and forbids her to grow out long hair, nor by her brother Dakko, who sees her as a mother-figure and does not give her personal space even at night, crawling into her bed. Milana Aguzarova's character does not openly show emotions, tries not to contradict anyone and for a long time viewers can observe only a detached smile on her face. Kovalenko very delicately describes Adadza's interaction with all male representatives. At first glance, it may actually seem that such a life and attitude are usual for Adadza and do not cause her any exceptional inconveniences. However, as the plot develops and new details are interwoven, it becomes obvious that she is suffocating in domestic unfreedom. It is during the dazzling scene of the school disco, to the sound of The Stars Are Shining in the Sky ("В небе звёзды горят") by Hassan Abubakarov, when Adadza breaks into a piercing and hysterical howl in her older brother's shoulder, the viewer finally understands − everything is worse than it seemed.
The cornerstone of the plot, as well as the main source of its problems, definitely lies in Adadza's relationship with her father. Zaur is an exceptional manipulator. He skillfully manages his daughter's emotions, forcing Adadza to doubt her every single step. The phrase "I can't do it without you", said to Adadza just a few minutes after her attempt to escape, becomes somewhat of a turning point. Close to the movie's ending, when Zaur finally gives Adadza her prudently hidden passport back, it becomes vivid how challenging it is for the girl to run away from her father's oversight even after receiving such an opportunity. The reason is not even in Zaur's hands, which, due to a nervous seizure, are cramped so hard during a hug that she could not get out of them − a marvelous metaphor for the heavy chains of life-lasting control that her father had been shackling her with.
Her morbid attachment becomes blatant in the moment when his hands are finally unclenched, but Adadza decides to squeeze them tighter around herself.

The problem raised by Unclenching the Fists is not as much in the hyperprotection by relatives, as in the loss of one's true self under the yoke of total control. Although Adadza is resisting the world around her at the limit of her abilities, subconsciously she understands that she will not come out of this fight as a vanquisher. While winning just small battles, she makes bets on other's victory in the war over and over again.

The film turned out to be as replete and catchy as possible. In a total of 97 minutes sincere laughter, sobbing, young love, violence, and a lot of pain, both moral and physical, can be seen on the screen. The inner freedom of Kira Kovalenko as a director and a person made it possible for her to create a movie with the highest degree of drama mastery, which definitely deserves attention of the world audience.
"Not all people can endure slavery and apparently no man can stand freedom"
− the exact quote from Faulkner's novel "Intruder in the Dust", which, according to Kira Kovalenko, inspired her to make this movie. And it perfectly reflects the idea of Unclenching the Fists.
Strive for freedom but don't forget to think about what you will do when you finally get it.
And whether you actually need it after all.

 
Unclenching the Fists – Caucasian Captivity Drama
REVIEW
Alexander Sokurov's students are once again conquering the Cannes Film Festival. This year, the film Unclenching the Fists (2021) by Kira Kovalenko, a young director from Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria, became a winner in the Un Certain Regard category. Kira is a former university classmate and current beloved of Kantemir Balagov, who has also been Cannes' favourite several times − with his Closeness in 2017 and Beanpole in 2019 (for both of which he received the FIPRESCI prize).

by Ira Belousenko


19/09/2021
It is impossible to deny that to some extent Closeness and Unclenching the Fists are closely intertwined, not only by the plot and the place of action, but also by the set of problems they are discussing. According to Kantemir Balagov, such works open up for the world a whole new genre called the "Caucasian neorealism". Movies from once "distant" in its mentality Caucasus, are gradually beginning to raise universal questions that are more or less familiar to the people from any place in the world. Nevertheless, despite the frequently emphasized similarity with Closeness, Kira Kovalenko presents a completely new − female − view on the issues associated with life in this region.

Unclenching the Fists tells the story of Adadza (Milana Aguzarova), a young woman from a small town of Mizur in North Ossetia. Adadza has two brothers − Dakko (Khetag Bibilov) and Akim (Soslan Khugaev), the second of whom has literally run away to another city from the all-controlling father of the family − Zaur (Alik Karaev). One day Akim returns to his hometown and Adadza, who has been continuously planning her escape, finally has an actual chance to escape for a better life with the help of her brother.
The very name of the movie refers to the debut film of an Italian director Marco Bellocchio, Fists in the Pocket (1965), the main character of which also finds himself under pressure from a family and circumstances. However, Kira Kovalenko claims that the trajectories of the movies differ significantly. Mainly because Bellocchio depicted the active fight against the established system, and Kovalenko on the other hand showed despair and cessation of any counteraction.

The film was shot entirely in the Ossetian language with minor inserts in Russian. The director herself explains such a choice with a desire to dive into the national character of the inhabitants of North Ossetia as deeply as possible. Even the actors for the most part are non-professional – Unclenching the First has become their first experience in cinema. This move was made by Kira Kovalenko with intention to create the effect of an organic and natural narration, as if the viewer is not watching the movie on the screen, but indeed lives this story and exists in the same space as the characters.
In her numerous interviews, Kira Kovalenko openly said how important it was for her to convey to the audience the stories of Caucasian women who found themselves in a situation of tough opposition to the patriarchal system of values. In this sense, Unclenching the Fists is a really strong work, since it tells about the conditions of social injustice that modern women still have to live in in some regions of Russia with accuracy and painful honesty.

Succumbing to stereotypes about an obedient Caucasian woman, Adadza is considered to be the lowest in the family hierarchy. Her opinions are not taken into account neither by her father, who forces her to pour "inappropriate" perfume into the kitchen sink and forbids her to grow out long hair, nor by her brother Dakko, who sees her as a mother-figure and does not give her personal space even at night, crawling into her bed. Milana Aguzarova's character does not openly show emotions, tries not to contradict anyone and for a long time viewers can observe only a detached smile on her face. Kovalenko very delicately describes Adadza's interaction with all male representatives. At first glance, it may actually seem that such a life and attitude are usual for Adadza and do not cause her any exceptional inconveniences. However, as the plot develops and new details are interwoven, it becomes obvious that she is suffocating in domestic unfreedom. It is during the dazzling scene of the school disco, to the sound of The Stars Are Shining in the Sky ("В небе звёзды горят") by Hassan Abubakarov, when Adadza breaks into a piercing and hysterical howl in her older brother's shoulder, the viewer finally understands − everything is worse than it seemed.
The cornerstone of the plot, as well as the main source of its problems, definitely lies in Adadza's relationship with her father. Zaur is an exceptional manipulator. He skillfully manages his daughter's emotions, forcing Adadza to doubt her every single step. The phrase "I can't do it without you", said to Adadza just a few minutes after her attempt to escape, becomes somewhat of a turning point. Close to the movie's ending, when Zaur finally gives Adadza her prudently hidden passport back, it becomes vivid how challenging it is for the girl to run away from her father's oversight even after receiving such an opportunity. The reason is not even in Zaur's hands, which, due to a nervous seizure, are cramped so hard during a hug that she could not get out of them − a marvelous metaphor for the heavy chains of life-lasting control that her father had been shackling her with.
Her morbid attachment becomes blatant in the moment when his hands are finally unclenched, but Adadza decides to squeeze them tighter around herself.

The problem raised by Unclenching the Fists is not as much in the hyperprotection by relatives, as in the loss of one's true self under the yoke of total control. Although Adadza is resisting the world around her at the limit of her abilities, subconsciously she understands that she will not come out of this fight as a vanquisher. While winning just small battles, she makes bets on other's victory in the war over and over again.

The film turned out to be as replete and catchy as possible. In a total of 97 minutes sincere laughter, sobbing, young love, violence, and a lot of pain, both moral and physical, can be seen on the screen. The inner freedom of Kira Kovalenko as a director and a person made it possible for her to create a movie with the highest degree of drama mastery, which definitely deserves attention of the world audience.
"Not all people can endure slavery and apparently no man can stand freedom"
− the exact quote from Faulkner's novel "Intruder in the Dust", which, according to Kira Kovalenko, inspired her to make this movie. And it perfectly reflects the idea of Unclenching the Fists.
Strive for freedom but don't forget to think about what you will do when you finally get it.
And whether you actually need it after all.
Made on
Tilda