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Beyond the White review – calmness abounds in remote Russian villages | Movies

A wonderful stillness enfolds Evgeny Kalachikhin’s contemplative documentary which observes the daily routines of the residents of Kuzomen, Chavanga, and Tetrino, three remote Russian villages on the Kola Peninsula, on the coast of the White Sea (to which the title refers). Far from the trappings of technology, these people still live in timber houses as they spend their days fishing, cooking and repairing their rudimentary boats.

There is a painterly beauty in the way the camera keeps its distance from its subject; economical with words, the soundscape is largely made up of silences, natural sounds, and a gorgeous classical score. Much of the film consists of wide shots that capture startling vistas of verdant fields, rocky beaches that stretch to infinity, and the gentle rippling of the White Sea, all of which inspire a sense of therapeutic calm. On this edge between water and land, time has come to a stop. Yet, this way of living is on the verge of vanishing. A postscript in the end credits notes how, in the past three decades, over 30,000 villages in Russia have disappeared.

Indeed, the warning signs are dotted around the graceful landscape, like the dilapidated, abandoned houses that solemnly stand against the fog and winds. Still, even in moments of hardship, such as a wildfire that spreads across the plains, the resilient strength of the community triumphs over their geographical isolation, as the villagers form a chain to transport buckets of water to the affected area.

While the meditative style might come off as a little emotionally withdrawn, its thoughtfulness also helps us immerse more fully and bodily into a land that seems to hail from a bygone era.

Beyond the White is available on 29 October on True Story.

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Photo by Xu Haiwei on Unsplash