New East Digital Archive

Closeness (2017)

Directed by Kantemir Balagov

Set in Russia’s northern Caucasus, Closeness delves into issues of national identity, femininity, and family relationships.

Kabardino-Balkaria, a largely Muslim Russian republic on the border with Georgia, is a unique region with its own traditions and languages — as well as its own marginalised minorities. Closeness, the debut film by fledgling director Kantemir Balagov, takes us among the Mountain Jewish community living in the republic’s capital. The atmosphere here is hostile, and when a young Jewish couple is kidnapped, the community is frightened, but not surprised.

The film constantly explores ethnic and religious tensions. It focuses in on 24-year-old Ilana, the black sheep of an outcast family and sister to the kidnapped boy. Ilana, is headstrong and independent: far too independent for a woman, it seems to her parents. She feels just as trapped as her brother, who is being held hostage; even the moving images of the film itself appear entrapped in a thick black frame due to the unusual 4:3 aspect ratio. By using the universal framework of complicated family relations, Balagov tells us a gripping story of an outsider at the edge of Russia.