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The Italian, a film that aims to expose the overcrowded, impoverished conditions in Soviet state-run orphanages, is a chilling portrayal of contemporary Russian life. Director Andrei Kravchuk conveys, from inside orphanage walls, the sense of responsibility that employees feel to the children, and how desperate economic straits drive these same dedicated employees to sell their kids for a few Euros. Vanya Solntsev (Kolya Spiridonov), nicknamed "The Italian," is a six year-old abandoned at birth. His jealous peers envy his invitation from an Italian family to move to Italy, but young Vanya is determined to find his real mother, which means forfeiting this rare opportunity for adoption. Kolyan (Denis Moiseenko), the gang leader Vanya "works" for, and Natasha (Polina Vorobieva), a gentle caretaker, try to convince him otherwise through scare tactics and beatings to no avail. With the help of teen prostitute, Irka (Olga Shuvalova), Vanya learns to read and catches a train to the city, living as a runaway hunted by his orphanage supervisors who want to sell him to The Italians. Shock sets in upon imagining a society of child vagrants roaming Russian streets, not to mention women abandoning children as expendables. Given the tragic subject matter, it is tempting to assume that this is a chronic social problem in Russia, but hopefully The Italian merely fictionalizes an extreme example of this sad topic. Convincing performances by Spiridonov and Shuvalova add to the film's documentary feel. If nothing else, The Italian serves as biting social commentary that is culturally enlightening though heartbreaking.

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CO17088 Italian,The DVD (2005/Kolya Spiridonov) $19.95