Canadian short story writer/novelist David Bezmozgis draws on his Russian Jewish background for inspiration. Born in Latvia when it was still part of the now-defunct Soviet Union, he arrived in Toronto with his parents when he was six years old, joining the growing Russian diaspora in Canada.
Although Bezmozgis has forged his reputation on the anvil of fiction, he’s a filmmaker as well, having graduated from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts.
He wrote and directed his debut feature film, Victoria Day, six years ago. A middling coming-of-age movie, it was set in Toronto, its main character hailing from a Russian Jewish family.
Bezmozgis’ latest film, Natasha, which opens in Canada on May 6, is based on Natasha and Other Stories. It takes place in the Russian Jewish community and unfolds in Russian and English, with subtitles where necessary.
The protagonists are Mark (Alex Ozerov), a solemn 16-year-old from the suburbs of Toronto, and Nastasha (Sasha Gordon), a 14-year-old from Moscow who’s suddenly thrust into his life. Natasha, Mark’s cousin, arrives in Toronto with her mother, who’s due to marry Mark’s uncle, a call center operator who has been unlucky in love.
Blonde and attractive, Natasha makes her presence felt from almost the first moment. Promiscuous and uninhibited, she offers him sex.
It’s summer and Mark is on vacation from school. He’s looking for a job, but the only one he can land is in his uncle’s company. Finding it utterly depressing, he quits and goes back to his routine of reading philosophy and watching pornography. At this juncture, Mark’s mother asks him to show Natasha around the city.
As Mark immerses himself in the lives of the newcomers from Moscow, he learns that Natasha’s mother considers her “strange,” and that Natasha dislikes her mother and thinks she’s a “whore.” When Mark asks her opinion of Moscow, Natasha replies with a brusque one-word answer.
Natasha is a troubled person, but Mark continues to keep her company. Mark’s mother, unable to see past her facade, believes she’s “a good girl.”
As the days pass, Mark and Natasha go cycling and smoke pot. Having finally seduced Mark, she tells him stories about her sexual escapades in Russia.
While Mark’s mother is oblivious to what’s going on under her nose, his father is suspicious of Natasha. It doesn’t take long before they both discover that Natasha may be a bad influence on their son.
Natasha is a competently-crafted film with a fine cast, but it doesn’t completely engage you or linger in your mind after you’ve seen it. It’s not exactly the stuff of compelling drama.