Issue 68 (2020)

Evgeniia Iatskina and Alena Rubinshtein: It’s Not Forever (Eto ne navsegda, 2019)

reviewed by Lars Kristensen © 2020

eto ne navsegdaIt’s Not Forever is a portmanteau film about an orphanage. It contains four stories, each one following an orphan and their search for a home, a mother or just a place in a new family. The film was written and directed by Alena Rubinshtein and Evgeniia Iatskina and produced by Katerina Mikhailova, who through her film company Vega Film promotes emerging talents and films engaging with “urgent social topics” (2020). According to Ovidei.ru, the idea for the film arose when the filmmakers visited the Day of Cheburashka, a charity event for orphans. What started as a short film project in support of the charity later evolved into a feature-length film that took almost three years to make. Despite the four different storylines, the film centers on the “Gold Fish” orphanage and the stories are woven together through interconnected characters.

Let’s start with the facts. According to the film’s end credits, in Russia more than 50,000 children are living in orphanages and more than 500,000 orphans live in foster families. Of these orphans, 10 per cent are adopted outside of Russia, 40 per cent are orphaned as a consequence of alcohol or drug abuse and 40 per cent as a consequence of crime and imprisonment, and 10 per cent eventually end their lives by suicide. It is about these statistics that the film seeks to raise awareness.   

eto ne navsegdaIn the first story, Vania pretends that Katia is his mother. Having recently been released from prison, Katia has applied for a position in the kitchen at the “Gold Fish” orphanage. She is rejected for the position, but accidentally leaves her application form on a windowsill. Vania picks it up, sees her picture on the form and begins to claim that she is his mother. Katia is told by the director of the orphanage that Vania does not have a mother. In fact, as with the rest of the orphans, nobody wants him. They are like monkeys in a zoo, the director says, disconnected from their normal habitat and willing to do anything to get out. In short, pretending is not hard in such an environment, and Vania keeps insisting that Katia is his mother. Here, the film manages to reveal and conceal enough information to raise plot speculation: who is Katia, really? Could she really be Vania’s mother? Eventually we accept that it is Vania’s imagination that is at fault, but with that realization Katia slowly grows into the role—it is better to pretend than to crush a little boy’s heart.

eto ne navsegdaIn the second story, Misha takes nightly walks around the orphanage; he is restless and cannot sleep. He is constantly on the lookout for a way out. For him there is only time to kill before he is old enough to join the army, which would allow him to finally leave his miserable childhood behind. “Who else needs me?” [Komu ia nuzhen?], he asks his teacher rhetorically. She tries to comfort him and tells him that documents are being prepared for an international adoption, and maybe it is Misha’s turn to be placed in a foster home. However, to Misha’s regret, it is one of his follow orphans who is being adopted by a young American couple. Misha sneaks into the office and gets his file. Looking for information about his birth parents, he manages to find an address. On one of his nightly treks, he finds the flat and rings the bell; there is loud music coming out from behind the door. A young woman with tattoos and a shaven head opens the door, and asks who he is. Misha looks at her disapprovingly, and we hear the sounds of a party going on in the background. After a pause, Misha answers, “I am nobody” [Ia nikto] and leaves. Back at the orphanage, he tells his teacher that he is not going to look for his parents anymore.

eto ne navsegdaIn the third story, which is the shortest, Petia finds out that his native village is not far from the beach resort that the orphanage has travelled for a camp holiday. Petia carries a key around his neck, which is from his childhood home—only he has no home, as he says. However, he suddenly has the opportunity find that home. His girlfriend helps him escape, and he promises to come back for her. But he never does come back. Years later, they meet in a Black Sea port, where he is taking tourists out on trips in tour boats, but he hides from her. She is the tourist with her new American foster parents, and he the tour guide. Their paths cross one last time, but their journeys are different now.

eto ne navsegdaThe final story offers a change of focus, as we are not following an orphan finding a way out, but rather the effect an adopted orphan can have on a foster family. Marta is a teenager having some trouble with her love life. She is in love with a classmate, but he is with another girl from their class. She wants to go on a snowboarding trip and is about to go and study abroad at an expensive school. Marta’s mother, however, who is also the director of the orphanage, has instead decided to adopt Alesha, so instead of snowboarding, which is too dangerous according to her mother, she has an annoying kid brother around her neck. As with the story of Vania, the filmmakers again weave some mystery into the storyline. Is Marta also an orphan? This part cleverly casts further light on the plight of orphans and especially on the difficulties that they face once out of the orphanage.

eto ne navsegdaThe theme of orphans and their long road in search of a parent or a just better life is a classic plotline in cinema. Following Charles Dickens’ story of Oliver Twist, it is one that we have seen countless times, playing out in emotional scenes of tears and lost hope, because it grips our hearts in a way that no other theme can. We are equally the lost child and the empathetic other with a desire to care for the orphan. In films like Charles Chaplin’s The Kid (1921) and John Huston’s Annie (1982), the orphanage takes center stage in the search for a new life. We feel what they feel in their struggle to find a better life. In Soviet and Russian cinema, Sergei Bodrov’s Freedom is Paradise (SER, 1989) and Andrei Kravchuk’s The Italian (Ital’ianets, 2005) spring to mind, but also Nikolai Gubenko’s Wounded Game (Podranki, 1977) is a good example of a film in which life in an orphanage plays a pivotal role. The latter film gave the first indication that “not everyone had a happy Soviet childhood” (Beumers 2009: 178). However, It’s Not Forever is a different film, as it explicitly advocates its cause through its cinematic techniques.

The music is heavily used to accentuate the characters’ emotions, which in other films might be perceived as cheesy or banal. As Andrei Gorelikov (2019) points out in his review, the film belongs to an agitating, propaganda cinema. But being “literally manipulated” works in these tragic cases. Also the drawn animations that follow the characters work toward this agitational and didactic purpose. At key points in the film something in the image is animated—a doorbell that needs to be pressed, graffiti on the walls as a character passes by, or a stick in the hand of a character that is turned into a sword. As with the music, the animations accentuate or augment the characters’ reality. As this is not reality that is animated, but a staged reality, it is not quite “augmented reality” in the strict sense of a layer on the recording of reality. Rather, it is connected with trauma and the inability of capturing trauma though solely photographic images. The animations aid the viewers’ attempt to overcome something painful. The point is that we accept the manipulation as part of the premise of It’s Not Forever, which is to promote the perspective of orphans.

eto ne navsegdaIn this way, the stories of It’s Not Forever are typical charity films, a type of promotion or advocacy that uses film as a tool not only to achieve specific goals, but ultimately tries to actively change society. Ken Loach has remarked that films do not change society, but that charity films “are having a go at achieving just this” (Cranston 2018). However, as Loach is well aware, not everything goes in a charity film, because it has to fit a certain ideological perspective, which is matched with its funder’s views. Loach experienced this with his unreleased film Save the Children Fund Film (1971), which was not approved by its funders and thus shelved and not screened until 2011. In short, it was critical of the issue that it was meant to promote: the UK charity Save the Children (Archibald and Daniels-Yeomans 2020).

In the same vein, It’s Not Forever needs to promote its cause, the plight of orphans, but within the contemporary political context of Russian society. In that sense, it is not surprising that the American couple who wants to adopt is caricatured with devil’s horns through animations, or that Misha’s alleged mother in the second story is vilified just because of the way she looks and behaves—torn jeans, shaven head, tattoos and listening to loud music while having a good time with her friends. Who wants a mother like her?!

Lars Kristensen
University of Skövde

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Works Cited

Anon. 2020. “About: Vega Film”.

Anon. 2019. “Detal’no o kinofil’me ‘Eto ne nasegda’.” Ovideo.ru

Archibald, David and Finn Daniels-Yeomans. 2020. “Dialogical Encounters on the Cinema of Revolution: Save the Children Fund Film and Metalepsis in Black,” in E. Mazierska and L. Kristensen (eds), Third Cinema, World Cinema and Marxism, London: Bloomsbury (forthcoming).

Beumers, Birgit. 2009. A History of Russian Cinema, Oxford and New York: Berg.

Cranston, Ros. 2018. “Hit online autism film wins 2018 Charity Film of the Year award.” BFI, 15 May.

Gorelikov, Andrei. 2019. “Eto ne nasegda: retsenziia Kinoafishi.” Kinoafisha 19 July.


It’s Not Forever. Russia, 2019
Color, 92 min.
Directors: Evgeniia Iatskina, Alena Rubinshtein
Screenplay: Evgeniia Iatskina, Alena Rubinshtein
Cinematography: Nikolai German, Anton Safronov, Boris Kirisenko
Production Design Ofelia Arzumanova, Vladimir Krutov
Music: Konstantin Poznekov
Editor Timur Belyi
Cast: Agrippina Steklova, Ol’ga Lapshina, Iana Esipovich, Aleksandr Mokhov, Marta Drozdova, Mikhail Sazanov, Makar Pustoramov, Sasha Agashkov, Amalia Barysheva, Daniil Konovalov
Producers: Katerina Mikhailova, Konstantin Fam
Production: Vega Film, with support from the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation

Evgeniia Iatskina and Alena Rubinshtein: It’s Not Forever (Eto ne navsegda, 2019)

reviewed by Lars Kristensen © 2020

Updated: 2020