Fantastic Fest 2012 Review: DOM - A RUSSIAN FAMILY and its Brilliant Brutality

Ryland Aldrich, Festivals Editor

And you thought your family reunions were rough... It's a bitter dance of family dynamics and gangster guns a-blazin' in the engaging drama Dom - A Russian Family. With a more serious tone than one might expect, Oleg Pogodin's film reminds a bit of Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Once Upon A Time In Anatolia, but with way more excitement. This is one hidden gem well worth seeking out.

The Shamanov family has no shortage of characters. With four generations in one big house, everyone of them is preparing for grandpa's upcoming birthday (except grandpa, who spends his days sitting in wheel chair and staring blankly with his one good eye). The acting patriarch of the family presides over his numerous sons and daughter left under his roof and their significant others and children, all with the strength of his fists. It's nothing but tough love as far as the Shamanovs are concerned.

It was this upbringing that led eldest son Viktor to a life of crime. A successful life, we learn, when Viktor unexpectedly shows up for Grandpa's birthdays with thugs and guns in tow. The family welcomes him with open arms, but we soon find out Viktor's visit isn't just for old time's sake. There's a gang of professionals out to take Viktor down. And when they catch up, all hell is going to break out.

It's a real testament to Pogodin's skills as a filmmaker that the massive number of characters in Dom are all so well developed. Never do family members get confusing and each has an individual arc and dynamic that sets them apart from their siblings; every one playing a role in the overall story. All are linked through Viktor and the moments this hardened criminal shares with each of his siblings are some of the tenderest.

Inevitably, the violent finale of the film will be what people talk about most. But it's the strength of the characters throughout the first three-quarters of the story that cause the impact of the finale to be more than just visceral. Even with such a dramatic shift, everything that happens in the finale is true to the tone of what came before.

In lesser hands, this script could have become a mess of jumbled characters, off color humor, and out of place violence. But by playing it completely straight, Pogodin proves he was the right man for the job. This coupled with an obvious eye for action filmmaking is a clear shout that Pogodin is a filmmaker to keep an eye on - and that Dom - A Russian Family is a definite must-see.

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