On the northern coast of the Russian Kola peninsula, bordering the infamously tempestuous Barents Sea, lie half-abandoned military bases, their mossy structures turning ghostly against the silver-grey winter sky. Looking more like a setting for a post-apocalyptic sci-fi film, the area hardly resembles an ideal place to put down roots. Nevertheless, Ilya Povolotsky’s otherworldly documentary shows a small, idiosyncratic community striving to lead meaningful lives in this inhospitable environment.

While these unusual souls hail from different backgrounds, they all appear to be living outside the contemporary course of history. Former marine Bardak spends his autumnal years squatting in a rundown building even though his peers opted to move to the cities. Middle-aged Alexander operates a quasi-water bus service, a métier he hopes his teenage daughter Masha will inherit. Still, the young girl is more grounded on land: one particularly spirited sequence finds Masha sprinting with her friend around a shopping mall, where attractive window displays trump the solemn austerity of her father’s cabin.

In contrast to those who are preoccupied with the past – including a ragtag team of amateur divers with a passion for recovering second world war boat wreckage – Dima is an adrenalin-seeking poacher working on the fringes of the law. Povolotsky planned to stage and shoot a sea chase, only for Dima to be pursued by real coast guards; this is where the line between documentary and fiction gets blurred, for dramatic effect. The threading together of the different stories is overly opaque at times, but Evgeny Rodin’s atmospheric cinematography is a marvel, imbuing a Tarkovsky-esque ethereality to a land that has fallen out of step with the modern world.

Froth is available on 18 February on True Stories.



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