Altered Innocence presents Astrakan, a beautifully melancholic 16mm character study of troubled youth. This French film encapsulates the core mission of Altered Innocence, which focuses on introducing international and cutting-edge LGBTQ and Coming-of-Age cinema to North American audiences. Directed by David Depesseville and shot in stunning 16mm by Simon Beaufils (Knife+Heart), Astrakan is a narrative debut (an official selection of New Directors/New Films) that promises a gripping and impressionistic journey into the raw precariousness of youth.
This French film follows Samuel (Giannini), a young orphan, as he navigates the turbulent waters of adolescence after being sent to live with foster parents Marie (Beth) and Clement (Bouillon). The narrative intricately weaves together themes of internal demons, family secrets, and the profound transformation that comes with coming of age. Through its lens, we witness Samuel’s emotional journey, from falling in love with the girl next door to rediscovering childhood passions. As his world unravels, we are drawn into a mesmerizing blend of dense realism and feverish fantasy.
Astrakan boasts an ensemble cast led by Mirko Giannini, Jehnny Beth, Bastien Bouillon, Theo Costa-Marini, and Lorine Delin. While the cast tries to emphasize their struggles and inner demons, their delivery falls flat, struggling to fully convey the depth of their characters’ lives amid the film’s frenetic storytelling style. Amidst the tumultuous backdrop, their efforts occasionally get lost, obscuring the emotional journeys of the characters in a whirlwind of visual and narrative disarray.
While Astrakan offers numerous fascinating moments that draw viewers in, the film’s narrative structure may leave some feeling disoriented. The plot unfolds with a chaotic quality, and at times, it seems to lack a clear sense of direction and purpose. The film’s pacing is slow, leading to a climax that, while explosive, feels driven more by shock value than by a deliberate build-up. Given the intricacy of a delicate period in a young boy’s life, it’s a shame that the chaos overshadows a narrative that only posed questions resulting from cluttered confusion.
Astrakan openly takes on the challenging task of offering a raw and impressionistic exploration of youth with vigorous confidence. Its stunning visuals and a dedicated ensemble cast provide a bold glimpse of its potential brilliance. However, the film’s chaotic storytelling, inconsistent character development, and abrupt climax are incredibly disappointing. It teeters on the brink of achieving a beautifully chaotic blend that could intensify the film’s ‘avant-garde’ ending. Ultimately falling short of its all-around potential.
Astrakan notably captures a visual spectral of wonderment in its cinematic journey, leaving viewers with a mix of fascination and, yes, the occasional frustration – a testament to the complexities of youth it seeks to portray. Nevertheless, for those who appreciate the unconventional and are willing to ride the tumultuous rollercoaster of adolescence, this film could be just what you’re looking for. Just be prepared to sit through until the end to finally see it.
Astrakan is available now on VOD.