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My Stepbrother Frankenstein
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by Aaron Ducat

"Simply an ugly monster."
2 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2005 SEATTLE FILM FESTIVAL: My Step Brother Frankenstein depicts the traumatic effects of war on the body and the psyche, both on those directly involved in the fighting, and those to whom the fighters return. Set in modern day Russia, Frankenstein presumably speaks to the ongoing conflict in Chechnya, though its intentions presumably are to speak to war in general. Unfortunately the movie falls flat on each of its fronts, and drags on uninterestingly and seemingly without direction. Unlike its namesake, Frankenstein fails to be touching or demand our compassion, and instead is simply an ugly monster.

Frankenstein follows the life of Yulik (Leonid Yarmolnik), a physicist-turned-writer who lives in Moscow with his wife and two children. One day the family receives a letter that they will soon be visited by Pavlik (Daniil Spivakovsky), a former Russian soldier who is coming to Moscow to have surgery for an eye which he lost in battle. Pavlik claims to be Yulik’s son from a long-ago fling, which obviously throws a wrench into Yulik’s relationship with his wife Rita (Elena Yakoleva), though the family quickly allows Pavlik to stay with them. Pavlik is a mess: not only does he wear an eye-patch and sports a massive scar, mentally he is still fighting the war. He is constantly checking doors, listening for noises in the attic and worrying about “gooks” being out there.

Pavlik’s presence soon becomes a major stress on the family. Yulik’s teenage son Egor (Artyom Shalimov) despises Pavlik to the point of paying thugs to jump Pavlik, an encounter which only spurs on Pavlik’s delusions about being in an ongoing conflict. Rita requests. Yulik attempts to take Pavlik to a veteran’s hospital, but finds the conditions too horrendous; instead he drives Pavlik out to the middle of nowhere, gives him a bundle of cash and tells him to leave. Pavlik is soon picked up by the police and returns to the family. Yulik’s distaste of Pavlik begins to wear off, though his family continues to treat him coldly.

Ultimately Pavlik’s instability prevails, and he runs off with the two children in order to keep them safe. Rita and Yulik pursue them, and quickly so do the police. As the family is held hostage by Pavlik in the grandmother’s house, we see Pavlik’s inability to understand the police are there to help, for he can only see them as the enemy.

On the whole, Frankenstein does not succeed as an interesting story, or in adding much depth to our understanding of war’s ill effects. The writing is often very weak, with poorly connected story lines which fail to convince. For example, the supposed rift within the family upon hearing of Pavlik’s existence is far too easily dismissed, and Yulik too quickly lowers his otherwise distant defenses towards his son. Further, his support of Pavlik’s fascist ideologies, simply because of Pavlik service, is unconvincing and does not fit with his earlier attitudes. Although Pavlik’s disruption of family life serves to demonstrate the division that war causes on all involved, it is carried off with little passion and is not nearly as strong as it could have been. Sadly, the symbolism of Pavlik’s loss of an eye with his deteriorating mental vision is never built upon. As well, the title’s reference to Frankenstein is empty: though the film attempts to touch upon it, there is insufficient development to make its usage worthwhile, and instead of a complex monster depicting society’s problems we are left with a sad, though not uncommon, mentally unstable man coming home from war.

Daniil Spivakovsky does a decent turn as Pavlik, though he fails to truly convince us to have compassion for Pavlik, nor to fear his dementia as he becomes increasingly paranoid. This is also exemplified in his makeup, which is neither saddening nor frightening (frankly Spivakovsky looks a lot like Paul Reubens got lost on the set of Edward Scissorhands). Yulik is confusingly played by Leonid Yarmolnik, though this probably has a lot more to do with poor writing than acting. Elena Yakovleva is convincing as an angry and uncertain Rita, and gives some dignity to an otherwise flaccid character.

Though Frankenstein succeeds in demonstrating the terrible harm war has inflicted on the psyche of Pavlik, I can’t help thinking that this is a lesson unneeded, even to those at great distance from the frontlines. I’m uncertain what writer Gennady Ostrovosky and director Valery Todorovsky were attempting to demonstrate, beyond the all-too-simple adage that war leaves a destructive wake. The story lines ultimately do not fit: there is no convincingly developed connection between a family struggling to accept a previously unknown son into their home and that son’s struggles in the war. As such we’re left with a tepid description of a sad situation, certainly not the material needed to carry an interesting film.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=10828&reviewer=374
originally posted: 06/21/05 16:35:17
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Vancouver Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Mill Valley Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Mill Valley Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2005 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

12/04/04 Ivan Ivanov The film is very actual, I think. It shows the consequences of the war (in Chechnya). 5 stars
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