Andrei Konchalovksy’s The Postman’s White Nights consciously blurs the line between documentary and fiction, with an introductory title card noting that the characters are primarily played by residents of the rural community of Lake Kenozero.
This presumably positions the film as commentary on contemporary Russia. It sort of is; the film’s strongest stretch is its midsection, which contrasts the ostensible simplicity of country life with ‘civilisation’ – alternately militarised (with ominous close-ups of a sleek space rocket) and feminised. The net effect is a portrait of a community in decline, the sense of inexorable decay emphasised by shots of abandoned schoolhouses and rotted piles of timber.
Yet I found this subtext too shallow to resonate (granted, my limited familiarity with Russian politics meant that subtler shades may have escaped my notice). Certainly too shallow to justify the low-key, uneventful narrative, which focuses on the titular postman (Aleksey Tryapitsyn) and his interactions with the locals but is similarly lacking in dramatic substance.
Not that it’s entirely a slog. Aleksandr Simonov’s crisp cinematography ensures that The Postman’s White Nights is beautiful to look at, at least, and there’s much to like in Irina Ermolova’s performance as a romantic prospect of our postman protagonist.