Michael Hayward's Blog

VIFF 2020: "The Pencil"

Michael Hayward

Director Natalya Nazarova sets her film The Pencil in an industrial town in northern Russia, home to both a large prison, and a pencil-making factory. Antonina, a young artist from St. Petersburg (Nadezhda Gorelova), has relocated to the isolated town in order to stay close to her husband Sergei (Vladimir Mishukov), who has been imprisoned there on trumped up charges. She gets a job teaching art at the local school, but soon finds herself struggling to deal with bullying and outright threats from Misha, one of her students. Misha's brother heads a brutal local gang, and nobody in town seems willing to stand up to his thuggery, and the very real threats of violence and retribution.

Antonina, idealistic and determined, has difficulty accepting that the principles which have until now governed her life in St. Petersburg—the authority of the rule of law, and the belief that truth and right will ultimately prevail—might not also hold true here. A pencil may be the simplest means of creative self-expression, but as Misha demonstrates one day in class, it is also fragile, and easily broken.

Director Nazarova is unflinching in her examination of a society in which the intellectual life is no longer valued, and where thuggery has become entrenched. Dark and unrelenting, The Pencil stands alongside other recent Russian films that attempt to draw attention to the consequences of official corruption and authoritarian rule, Andrey Zvyagintsev's Leviathan (2014) being a prime example.

The Pencil is available for streaming through the VIFF Connect app until October 7th. A trailer for the film can be viewed here. Visit the VIFF website for more information on VIFF 2020.



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