The second in a planned "family trilogy," following 1997's poetic dirge Mother And Son, Aleksandr Sokurov's Father And Son opens with heavy breathing and two sculpted, tangled male bodies, wrestling in the morning light. When the camera finally gets some distance, Sokurov settles on the strange and intimate image of a young father cradling his grown-up son like an infant, quietly calming him after a recurring nightmare. Following the film's première at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival, the director balked at any suggestion of homoeroticism in their relationship, a reading he curtly attributed to "sick European minds." Not since Beau Travail has masculine ritual so clearly been made to seem like latent desire, yet it's probably best to take Sokurov at his word, especially in light of the earlier film. In both, the parent-child bond takes on an intensity that seems suspect at first glance and transcendent later, when the depth of the subjects' feelings for each other is clear enough to take at face value.
In contrast to the forest-bound Mother, which was photographed through overcast, hand-painted filters, Father And Son gleams in the warm, heavenly yellows of its Lisbon backdrop. Less a story than a situation, the film contends with a difficult transitional period in the lives of its title characters, who face the growing necessity of getting some distance from each other. Following in the footsteps of his father (Andrei Shchetinin), Alexei Nejmyshev is coming of age in military school and starting to look to the future, which may include a new partnership with girlfriend Marina Zasukhina, who brightens at the mention of having a son of their own. Still reeling from his wife's death, Shchetinin shares a rooftop apartment with Nejmyshev and takes comfort (and, yes, maybe something a little untoward) in seeing his wife's face reflected in his son's.
Father And Son is accessible by Sokurov's standards, at least as they were before the surprise arthouse hit Russian Ark. He still errs on the side of cryptic, but Father And Son allows its ambiguities to coexist with liberating beauty. Though its central relationship rhymes with the deep, at times disturbing family ties in Mother, the film opens up to the extraordinary splendor of its seaside locale, which Sokurov halos in an ethereal glow. The juxtaposition between the stifling interiors and the bright, airy exteriors underlines the necessity of change, however painful it may be for both men to split apart and experience the outside world. The overall mood is somber nonetheless, but Sokurov provides a much-needed break in the clouds.