Steppenwolf (2024) IFFR 2024

January 31st, 2024
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Adilkhan Yerzhanov | | Kazakhstan/Russia,102′

A hyper violent civil war rages across an apocalyptic landscape where gender conventions prevail in classic Western style: the men are the killers. One traumatised woman seeks to preserve life, that of her child, predictably kidnapped by organ traffickers (a ‘nice’ modern twist).

After his exquisite 2018 feature The Gentle Indifference of Life and 2022 thriller Assault, Yerzhanov returns to a vast wilderness for another Steppe legend love story: that of a mother for her child. The intrepid Tamara is determined to sacrifice her own life and safety to safeguard that of her son. In this endeavour hires an investigator, a reformed ex-convict who goes by the name of Steppenwolf and bears a canny resemblance to the mythological character, literally the ‘wolf of the Steppes’. Complete with shaggy hair, clear blue eyes and a swaggering gait he’s not a man to be underestmated as his victims soon discover to their chagrin.

Threatening and pacifying his female companion by turns, Steppenwolf is certainly menacing but also faintly ridiculous. Committed to these endless brutal murders, tersely executed with an axe or rotary cutting device, Steppenwolf goes about his business while Tamara remains meek and submissive, reduced to a mumbling, monosyllabic communication. At one point she seems to have died, lips turning purplish, but no, this woman is the heroine of the piece, an indomitable martyr empowered to withstand endless pain and emotional suffering to achieve her aims. Stylish and formally striking, the hostile landscape mirrors the film’s bloody violence – but a little more dark humour would have been welcome. Hard-going for the faint of heart. @MeredithTaylor



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