The Island (Ostrov) Review
During World War Two, off the north coast of Russia, Anatoli, a crew member on a small coal-carrying barge, is captured by the crew of a German destroyer. He is forced to kill his friend Tikhon...or they will both be shot. So he chooses the former. The barge is blown up and Anatoli left for deadm but he washes up on the shore of a small island, where he is taken in by an order of Orthodox monks. In 1976, Anatoli (Pyotr Mamonov) still lives and works in the monastery. Considered merely eccentric by the monks, he has a reputation for wisdom and for healing the sick amongst the locals. All the while, Anatoli is tormented by his experience more than thirty years earlier.
Pavel Lungin's film, written by Dmitri Sobolev, wears its influences clearly. There's more than a bit of Bergman, Tarkovsky and Dreyer in the bleak, widescreen landscapes, and the explicit emphasis on questions both spiritual and religious, here specifically from the Russian Orthodox branch of Christianity. The pace is measured, but compelling if you can adjust to it, and flashes of humour prevent the film from becoming too dour.
The people who seek out Anatoli include a woman seeking to have an abortion, a widow who is told that her husband is still alive and living far away, the mother of a girl with a diseased hip and a young woman who is apparently possessed. Anatoli's advice is not always what these people want to hear, and his Father Superior, Filaret (Viktor Sukhorokov), comes to worry about his state of health and mind. Anatoli's faith sustains many trials, and his self-redemption comes about in a way that is dramatically a little too pat.
Lungin (Artifical Eye use an alternate spelling, Lounguine) has been directing films since 1990, but The Island is the first to have had British distribution, four years after its success at the Russian box office. (Noel Megahey has reviewed his newest film, Tsar, here.) The Island is an impressive film of a kind that isn't made so often nowadays. It's easy for a filmmaker to mock religious belief, much less so to deal with it seriously.
Artificial Eye's release of The Island is a dual-layered disc encoded for all regions. The film itself carries a PG certificate: the package is raised to a 12 by the trailers included on the DVD.
The aspect ratio is 2.40:1 and the DVD transfer is anamorphically enhanced. The opening sequence is in black and white; with the thirty-plus-year-jump in the narrative we move to muted colour. This is an often darkly-lit film but shadow detail is good, blacks solid and the image sharp. No complaints here.
There are two soundtracks with the original Russian dialogue, in Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Surround (2.0). This is a track with a lot of surround usage, especially in the exterior scenes with the wind constantly blowing. Many of the interiors are not lacking in ambience either. The subwoofer particularly comes into play early on, with the key gunshot and an explosion. English subtitles are optional.
The only extras are the trailer for The Island itself (0:50) and the following trailers for other Artificial Eye releases, programmed as one item with chapter stops: The White Ribbon, Katalin Varga, Climates and Russian Ark