By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Opening on April 28, 2017 in New York City is a truly remarkable film about Russian-Jewish immigrants living in Canada. Written and directed by David Bezmozgis, Natasha is a coming-of-age story about an intelligent, and somewhat assimilated, Russian-Jewish teenager dealing with familial problems while trying to enjoy his adolescent years. The film offers a fascinating portrait of the Russian immigrant experience in Canada for both the young and mature, and offers much insight into the problems that exist for both people in Russia and for the immigrants adjusting to their new home. The film features excellent performances by the cast and is a very intriguing character study.
Alex Ozerov stars as Mark Berman, a sixteen-year old teen who has become fascinated with philosophy. During his summer break, Mark spends his days either reading, partying with friends, or making extra money dealing marijuana. His parents (Deanna Dezmadi, Genadijs Dolganovs) encourage him to seek employment, but Mark would rather make enough money from his drug deals for minimal work, so that he has more time for fun and reading. After Mark’s Uncle Fima (Igor Ovadis) gets re-married to a Russian immigrant named Zina (Aya-Tatyana Stolnits), Mark gets tasked with the responsibility of showing Zina’s daughter Natasha (Sasha K. Gordon) around town and keeping her entertained. The two eventually enter into a torrid romance, and through this relationship, Mark learns much about life back in Russia, Natasha’s troubled past, and life in general.
Based on the book by the film’s writer and director David Bezmozgis, Natasha truly is an engrossing and intoxicating film. Bezmozgis has written a story about immigrants that rarely gets told. Most films are about the immigrant experience in the United States and have mostly been about Mexican-Americans, Irish-Americans, or others. Though this film portrays the Canadian experience as somewhat similar to one in the U.S., it is refreshing to see a different ethnic group get some cinematic screen time. Bezmozgis does an exceptional job of developing his characters of multi-generations with most of the focus remaining on the character Mark, a more assimilated teenager who tries to balance his identities as a Canadian and a Russian Jew. My only gripe has to do with film’s conclusion which comes across as weak without out any real closure. The journey there, however, is most definitely worthy of both time, money, and an audience’s full attention.
Bezmozgis’ writing and direction is great, as are the performances by the entire cast. Both Alex Ozerov and Sasha K. Gordon perform well together in the film. The young actors do an outstanding job of building on their awkwardness with one another and the noticeable sexual tension between them. Their relationship beautifully melds into a passionate and somewhat loving one and the two actors use their chemistry well. The movie also features solid work by Deanna Dezmadi, Genadijs Dolganovs, Igor Ovaidis, Aya Tatyana Stolnits and Aidan Shipley.
Despite my one complaint about the film, I must highly recommend this fascinating and enticing film. Unfortunately, it is only opening in NYC this weekend, but I must strongly encourage my non-NYC readers to seek out this movie via streaming or rental. I have not received any information on the availability in these formats; however, I will certainly keep my readers updated as soon as I do. For those in the New York City area, Natasha opens on April 28 at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema. It is a must-see film.