“Grace”: in Russia, the van goes with it… and Ilya Povolotsky’s camera

“Grace”: in Russia, the van goes with it… and Ilya Povolotsky’s camera


A young Russian filmmaker, from documentary, Ilya Povolotsky, made an impression at Cannes in May 2023. Not only because he denounced Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But also because his first fiction feature film, La Grace , selected for the Quinzaine des filmmakers, revealed a magnificently fragmented writing, as if inside this false road movie an underground wave circulated, carrying phantom characters who are just passing through. Or who will never appear, because they are already dead. Initially self-produced, La Grace received the support of an independent Russian producer, Ivan Nechaev. The thirty-year-old director currently lives in Paris, where he is preparing his next “feature” with French producers.

A father (Gela Chitava) and his teenage daughter (Maria Lukyanova), who will never be named, cross Russia in a van, from south to north, from a republic in the Caucasus, Kabardino-Balkaria. We do not know the reasons for their journey, except that they are heading towards the Barents Sea, and that the silence becomes heavy between the man at the wheel and the young passenger with a stubborn look. She can no longer stand this life where she freezes on the side of the road, eats on the go, and does not appreciate seeing women join her father in the vehicle while she waits outside. From one of them she will ask for a towel to mop up her period flow. All relationships are pragmatic, never a smile and everything is in change, books, VHS tapes…

Occasionally, the tandem stops on an empty lot to organize an open-air screening. For a few hours, residents appear out of nowhere and gather in front of the big screen, then disperse immediately afterwards. The whole story is irrigated by these ebbs and flows of spectators, as if cinema were a subversive object, to be hidden under the cloak – moreover, among the masters he venerates, Ilya Povolotsky cites the Russian Alexei Guerman (1938- 2013), a great creator of forms, some of whose films were banned. But Grace also tells us, and this is not the least of the beauties of this work, that traveling cinema allows the father and daughter to survive, and to enhance their daily lives.

Metaphorical journey

The filming took place chronologically, the film granulating the iridescent light of the first sunsets on the windshield, then sculpting the colder tones of the Nordic coast. While capturing reality, the filmmaker nevertheless introduces a certain strangeness into his shots, showing his country as an immense patchwork of territories, more or less well assembled.

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