Unclenching the Fists


If you look into the history of the word ‘family’, you will discover that its definition comes from the Latin for ‘drama’. Actually it doesn’t - it actually comes from the Latin word ‘famulus’ – but it may as well be drama.

And regardless as to how perfect any family may consider their own to be, there is guaranteed to be some drama or another in there, which just needs teasing out. And for the majority of families, it doesn’t take much in the way of teasing at all.

This Russian film focuses on a young woman who lives at home, who suffers from the dilemma of loving her family, and yet wanting to be as far away as possible from it at the same time.

boom reviews Unclenching the Fists
Damn, now did i leave the gas on or not?...

Living in a dusty mining town in North Ossetia is Ada (Milana Aguzarova). She lives with her father and one of her brothers Dakko (Khetag Bibilov).

Her father is very protective of her, possibly too protective, which leaves Ada feeling much of the time as if she’s suffocating.

When her other brother Akim (Sosian Khugaev) returns home, the situation only gets worse, as he wants to take his sister with him, but as expected, their father is resistant. Despite an undeniable love for her father, Ada knows that she’ll be better off away from him. But thinking it, and going through with it, is another matter entirely.

boom reviews Unclenching the Fists
I'd still rather be in that Ford Escort - look what this is doing to my hair!

This is only Kira Kovalenko’s second feature and yet the Russian director doesn’t hold back from delivering a fairly unforgiving drama.

The film is set in an ugly, inhospitable place, and sets the tone throughout for what’s to come.

Ada is a young woman in constant conflict, not only literally with her father, but with her feelings towards him and the family unit as a whole. There’s clearly been some kind of trauma in her life that got her to this place, and Kovalenko keeps this information back from the audience for most of the film. But as soon as she does offer the big reveal, it all fits in place. Until then however, there’s an unnerving feeling towards Ada, superbly played by Aguzarova with a sensational acting debut, as she displays a heady mix of vulnerability with volatility; she’s tightly coiled and could go off in any direction.

And to be fair to the director, none of the family members come across as monsters, within each having their own reasons to behave the way they do, and it’s just a lack of awareness that they don’t see Ada suffering from it.

It is a film that will leave you feeling fairly tense throughout, as little light seeps through this generally dark world. But much like the film’s title implies, there is some semblance of hope to cling onto, where you can finally relax.

Kovalenko does an outstanding work with both the handling of the story, as well as getting the upmost from her cast. It is Aguzarova’s performance that will keep you on the edge of your seat, with her eyes, always busy, looking for a way out.

Perhaps where the script could have done with a bit of work is with the patriarch; at one point it’s claimed that he is ill, and he certainly behaves that way, but it’s never explained as to what the problem might be. Perhaps Kovalenko wanted to keep it fairly vague as to not have her audience sympathise with him much, which is fair enough, but it could have helped with being fleshed out a little more than it is.

It’s also a little sluggish on the pacing side, particularly the first half, but it comes into its own for the remaining half.

It may be a little hard work in places - but let’s face it, what family isn’t - but the young, dazzling Aguzarova will keep you hooked right up until the final frame.

we give this three out of five