This movie completely engrossed me, I haven't seen anything this emotionally rivetting in a really long time. It's one of those films that if it can hit the mark, it does...without mercy.
Of course, those of you who detest subtitles....beware! 'cause it's another foreign film, this time it's Russian.
I've not heard of any of these actors before, and this review is probably fricken' biased...but who cares...let's get on with the story!
It's about a little boy, Ivan [affectionately Vayna for short] Solnestev who is one of the numerous children in a little orphanage in some little town in Russia [I'm presuming]. Anyways, so the film begins with a nice young Italian couple coming by to check out this little boy deciding on whether or not they would like to adopt him and give him a fulfilling life in Italy.
Regardless of this fantastic offer, the little six-year-old is still in a dilemma as after his good friend Alesha Mushkin is carted off to another family a short while before...finally, his birth mother shows up distraught looking for him fervently. Instead, the director of the orphanage kicks her out and threatens to kill her. After drinking too much vodka sitting at the bus stop she waits until Vayna, his friend Anton and an older girl Natasha who went shopping come back and asks little Ivan to sit and talk to her about Alesha.
Later on we learn that 'allegedly' Mushkin's real mother threw herself onto the train tracks...although the older kids swear she just drank too much and fell and that starts Vanya thinking. 'What if when I'm in Italy and my real mother comes looking for me?' As his friend Anton says, 'Once they change your name, that's it. There's no hope of them for ever finding you again.'
Determined to find out about his birth mother Vanya takes on a lot of very brave, and sometimes quite foolish tasks that included breaking into the director's safe for personal files, stealing from Nikolai [who being one of the older kids takes advantage of the younger ones by having them work for him and give him all their money], and eventually leaving the chances of Italy far behind him.
The hardships that he faces seem a little bit surreal and unrealistic for a six-year-old to deal with but once engrossed by this film we stop and wonder 'how the hell do we know what we would do in that situation?'
The amazing quest that Vanya sets out on is something of a dream which he struggles to make a reality, facing various [dangerous] obstacles, kind people, neglect, apathy, escaping the authorities and so forth. Eventually he learns that the world isn't altogether necessarily a safe and happy place and that sometimes although the brain is yelling at us to stop our heart beats on stronger and louder drowning out any warnings that the brain utters.