The Bonfire review – distinctive icy parable of guilt and remorse

Yakut director Dmitry Davydov’s first feature is an intriguing examination of redemption in Sakha, a remote Russian republic

Absorbing, despite or because of the eccentricities … The Bonfire. Absorbing, despite or because of the eccentricities … The Bonfire.Absorbing, despite or because of the eccentricities … The Bonfire.

Peter Bradshaw@PeterBradshaw1

Dmitry Davydov is the self-taught Russian director from the remote eastern republic of Sakha who has been gaining golden opinions on the festival circuit for his spare and fervent films, often using non-professional actors. Here is Davydov’s first feature, The Bonfire, from 2016, which is intriguing, if sometimes baffling in its stylistic variations. Mostly it has the uncompromising austerity of a stripped-down social realist drama. And yet occasionally it gives you quite a lot of frills. Intermittently, we get a rich orchestral score that feels as if it comes from another type of film altogether; there’s a “montage” sequence of an old man and a young kid getting to know each other that wouldn’t look out of place in a Hollywood feature, and a late-breaking marriage subplot that is certainly startling.

An old man, Ignat (Alexey Ustinov) living alone in this remote and freezing territory, is horrified when his grownup son takes his own life in a fit of remorse for accidentally killing someone while drunk. Ignat finds a kind of redemption in looking after a local kid whose mum is an alcoholic, but the ageing father of the boy his son killed is in no way chastened or mollified by the suicide of his son’s killer. He can’t forgive or forget and is consumed with the desire to kill Ignat.

The Bonfire has the simplicity of a parable (when it isn’t periodically assuming the style of something with a higher budget) and it is always absorbing, despite or because of the eccentricities: there’s a scene which is shot from Ignat’s point-of-view for no very obvious reason. Ustinov shows us a real anguish and a real dignity and his stoicism governs the tone of the film itself. It’s a movie with a tough and flinty solidity.

The Bonfire is available on 4 November on Klassiki.


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