The Italian

Rated 4.0

Director Andrei Kravchuk’s affecting if oversimplified feature debut, from a script by Andrei Romanov (and, reportedly, a true story), is the oddest thing: a Russian Dickensian neorealist fable. The title refers to a nickname bestowed by fellow orphans on 6-year-old Vanya (Kolya Spiridonov) when a wealthy Italian couple considers adopting him. While awaiting clearance from various grubby and corrupt bureaucracies, Vanya sees a haunted young woman arrive at the orphanage to reclaim the child she abandoned. He worries that leaving for Italy now might preclude a reunion with his own mother. So, instead, he escapes to go find her. Kravchuk’s well-tempered storytelling owes much to his talented team: Cinematographer Alexander Burov doesn’t flinch from the abundant squalor but does soften it with gauzy, wintry light; composer Aleksandr Knaifel contravenes sentimentality with a score both spare and sparely applied; and the young Spiridonov amazes with the wisdom of his performance.