Issue 42 (2013)

Maksim Panfilov: Ivan, Son of Amir (Ivan syn Amira, 2013)

reviewed by Joshua First © 2013


ivansynamiraActor and producer Maksim Panfilov’s directorial debut, Ivan, Son of Amir, is set against the backdrop of the Great Patriotic War during 1942, but the historical drama appears as little more than a pretext for what Nancy Condee has called a “tense and busy family melodrama”. The film exhibits all of the relevant characteristics of the genre: a love triangle, a mother who must affirm her feminine virtue, and men who are forced to resolve the tensions between normative masculinity, emotional fragility, and familial obligation. Here, however, the family melodrama is placed within the theme of the Russian hero “going native,” one emerging from the literary merging of Romanticism with imperialism. In Russian literature, Lermontov most famously articulated this theme with his protagonist Pechorin in A Hero of Our Time, but it pops up again in such films as Vladimir Khotinenko’s The Muslim (Musil’manin, 1995). In both cases, war time frontiers produce in male heroes a desire to reject the culture of their Russian upbringing, and to embrace that of the native Other. In wedding this theme to the conventions of the melodrama, Panfilov’s film presents a female protagonist finding herself in a peaceful Uzbek village as she escapes from the war time frontier.

ivansynamiraThe film begins as Masha (played by Polish actress Karolina Gruszka), a ballet instructor, is evacuated from Sevastopol during the siege. She has recently learned that her husband, a naval officer, has died in battle. The subdued opening scene places Masha behind a line of girls practicing their positions. Her face betrays fatigue, but also emotional disengagement with her surroundings. She passively accepts her fate. In a later flashback, she bids her husband Ivan (Dmitrii Diuzhev) goodbye on an empty landscape with the same distant but fatigued look on her face, while her husband walks away toward the camera and smiles nervously as he looks back. Such a cold sendoff indicates that something is missing from their relationship, the scene contrasting so markedly from the traditional representation of men leaving for the front.

ivansynamiraMasha hopes to make it to Tashkent with the rest of the evacuees, but instead finds herself in an Uzbek kishlak with little hope of completing her journey, and frantically searching for a doctor to help her sick son. A jerky hand-held camera surveys a primitive village marketplace, focusing on features simultaneously exotic, chaotic and repulsive: Old men sell goats’ heads on a wooden table, children attempt to steal Masha’s luggage, and a door leads only to a wall with hanging tools. Moreover, no one speaks Russian. Panfilov commented that such kishlaks where his crew filmed Ivan had remained untouched by modernity, and that ‘nothing had changed there’ for the past ‘three centuries’ (Novikov and Golubchikov). A younger man, Amir (Bobur Yuldashev), finds Masha, cures her son, and invites them to stay in his house as they recover, much to the chagrin of his two wives. While this is certainly a compassionate gesture, Amir remains stoic and patriarchal, eventually expressing his sexual attraction for Masha by raping her. Afterward, she becomes pregnant, and is forced into an unofficial marriage with Amir. Nonetheless, Panfilov insists upon Amir’s compassion and innocent love for Masha, as her new husband agrees to name their son Ivan after her first husband, and even buys her a peacock for a pet. While never in love with Amir, Masha and her children gradually adapt to the customs of the kishlak, even as she performs her rightful role as colonizer by teaching the locals to speak Russian. By the war’s end, the villagers, and more importantly, Amir’s other wives, accept the Russians as their own. Moreover, dressed in native clothes and performing traditional Uzbek dances, Masha becomes a new woman, and for the first time appears happy.

ivansynamiraBut Masha’s true husband is not dead after all, and finds her in the village leading this new life without him. After learning the truth about her relationship with Amir, Ivan takes the four of them back to the Crimea, where he pursues a career as an engineer in a lighthouse. After the war, the film shifts to Ivan’s perspective as he struggles with his relationship to both Masha and her illegitimate son. His colleague and friend, Andrei, tells him he has two choices: He could either drown the child or adopt it. Fortunately, Ivan reconciles his wounded masculinity with familial duty and does the latter.

ivansynamiraIn the film’s final part, Amir and his two wives come to the Crimea after their village is destroyed by the 1946 earthquake. While the women tour the Livadia Palace and admire Russia’s beauty, Panfilov shows a subtle cross-fertilization of cultures emerging, with all three of the women speaking to each other in Russian and Uzbek. In an interview, the director revealed a soft nostalgia for Soviet multiculturalism when discussing this aspect of the film. He said that Ivan took place ‘during a time when people still lived in one state. In different republics, but in one state. When it was one country. This is an important background to the film’ (Novikov and Golubchikov ).Moreover, the film’s melodramatic motif is resolved peacefully, but not through the renewal of Ivan and Masha’s love for each other. Instead, the film articulates the peaceful interconnectedness of two very different families based on the mutual love for the young Ivan, a child who symbolizes the possibility for multinational harmony read into the Soviet past. This is only slightly undermined in the final shot, which shows Amir and his two wives boarding a boat on their journey back to Uzbekistan, while Masha and little Ivan remain in the Crimea with the more legitimate Russian patriarch, the older Ivan.

Joshua First
University of Mississippi

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Works Cited

Kondi, Nensi [Condee, Nancy]. ‘Vilka Mortona: zametki o Kinotavre-2013’, Iskusstvo kino 8 (2013).

Novikov, Boris, and Aleksandr Golubchikov. ‘Ekskliusiv! Maksim Panfilov o fil’me Ivan syn Amira’, Filmz.ru: Nastoiashee kino, 8 June 2013.


Ivan, Son of Amir, Russia, 2013
Color, 117 minutes
Director: Maksim Panfilov
Script: Maksim Panfilov and Andrei Osipov
Cinematography: Oleg Lukichev
Cast: Karolina Gruszka, Dmitrii Diuzhev, Bobur Yuldashev, Andrei Merzlikin, Lola Eltaeva, Nargis Abdullaeva, Aziza Begmatova, Anastasiia Smoktunovskaia, Samira Khuseinova
Producers: Maksim Panfilov and Andrei Osipov
Production Company: Film Company Vera, Mosfilm

Maksim Panfilov: Ivan, Son of Amir (Ivan syn Amira, 2013)

reviewed by Joshua First © 2013

Updated: 03 Oct 13