Review by John Delia

If you are into good foreign films, here’s a gut wrenching story that takes place in North Caucasus, Russia. The story Closeness plays out like a Romeo and Juliet situation with a female Jewish teen falling in love with a Kabardian in the midst of a family emergency. As the story plays out the film takes the viewer inside 1990’s tribal differences between the populations and the infighting that has been going on for years.

24 and unmarried Ilana Koft (Darya Zhovner) has become distant from the Jewish ways with her younger brother David getting all the attention. Living at home and an employee at her father Avi Kroft’s (Atrem Cipin) garage, she is an important family bread winner. A belligerence has developed between her and her mother Adina (Olga Dragunova) due to her carefree lifestyle making her home situation a bit shaky. Ilana secretly has been dating the wild and handsome Zalim (Nasir Zhukov) from the Kabardian tribe.

Darya Zhovner and Olga Dragunova in CLOSENESS from Kino Lorber

As we enter the family’s realm we find an excitement that David is about to ask Lia (Anna Levit), the daughter of a well to do family, for her hand in marriage. On the eve following the announcing of their engagement, the two get kidnapped for ransom and turn the world for both families upside down.

Director and co-writer Kantemir Balagov plays out his story showing the Jewish parents as a strong and dominant unit. But their two children David and especially Ilana have leaned toward modern ways that are not quite in tune with what is expected according to faith and family. When they have to deal with the ransom and find out about Ilana’s dating habits, things start to spiral down with choices that become devastating to all concerned.

Darya Zhovner and Veniamin Kac in CLOSENESS from Kino Lorber

I enjoyed seeing the different cultures and lifestyles some of which are violent and those that make their faith a big part of it. Here we not only see the wicked side of today’s youth in the Kabardian’s, but how quickly the family unit can be destroyed. The acting is very good developing their characters from ordinary to out of control. The sets and locations are telling of the way of life and the dangers that exist in the world.

Closeness has not been rated by the MPAA but contains language, forced sex, and violence. There is a scene of slurs against Jews. WARNING: This film contains a short grainy sequence showing an actual terrorist assassination, which may be disturbing for some viewers. The film plays out in the Russian Language with English subtitles.

Darya Zhovner as Ilana in CLOSENESS from Kino Lorber

FINAL ANALYSIS: A very different kind of movie for those who like to stray from the ordinary. (3 out of 5 Stars)

Additional Film Information:
Cast: Atrem Cipin, Olga Dragunova, Veniamin Kac, Anna Levit, Darya Zhovner, Nasir Zhukov
Directed and co-written by: Kantemir Balagov
Genre: Drama
MPAA Rating: Not Rated, WARNING: This film contains a short grainy sequence showing an actual terrorist assassination, which may be disturbing for some viewers.
Running Time: 1 hr. 58 min.
Language: Russian with English subtitles
Opening Date: May 1, 2020
Distributed by: Kino Lorber
Released in: Virtual Theater

FILMMAKERS NOTE FOR REFERENCE: The Kabardian’s, people from North Caucasus who speak Kabardian (not a Slavic language), have been subjected to Russian domination since 1825. With the Balkars (a Turkish-speaking and ethnically Turkish people), they have since 1936 formed the autonomous Kabardino-Balkaria Republic, included in the Russian Republic. The territory was occupied by German troops for five months during the winter of 1942-1943. The autonomous republic occupies 13,000km of territory (it borders the Karachay-Cherkessia Republic to the West, the district of Stavropol to the North and North Ossetia to the East – all three included in the Russian Republic – and Georgia to the South) and has a little over 800,000 inhabitants (57% are Kabardian’s, 23% Balkars and 13% Russians). Nalchik is the capital (pop. 240, 000). On this territory stands the highest European mountain, Mount Elbrus, 5642 meters high.

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