With a tensed brow, Kolya Spiridonov plays a boy perpetually hovering between anxiety and dogged determination, and the film walks the same line, unsure about where it's going but always moving forward regardless.
What really makes this potentially melodramatic story so powerful is the incredibly intense and focused presence of little Kolya Spiridonov, who makes you believe Vanya's determination and grit every step of the way.
There are shocking and heartbreaking moments scattered throughout The Italian, but [director] Kravchuk approaches them with a nonjudgmental, observational style that avoids most of the pitfalls of melodrama.
A throwback to neo-realist filmmaking . . . snowballs in emotion until later scenes are stomach-knotting in their tension. The film largely avoids sentiment with its muted score and shadowed close-ups.
With a riveting performance by young Kolya Spiridonov as the six year old Vanya, The Italian is a bitter sweet drama that captures the heartbreaking squalor of Russian orphans while highlighting the power of the spirit.