Unclenching the Fists (2021)

The tale of a young woman's struggle to get out of the clutches of her dominating father and explore the world outside

6/15/20232 min read

Russia, 97 minutes, 2021

Director : Kira Kovalenko

Cast: Milana Aguzarova, Alik Karaev, Soslan Khugaev, Khetag Bibilov, Arsen Khetagourvo

Awards: Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes Film festival, 2021

"Unclenching the Fists" is a captivating Russian film directed by Kira Kovalenko that delves into the harsh realities of Ada's (Milana Aguzarova) life and the pursuit of personal freedom. Released in 2021, this debut feature has garnered critical acclaim for its raw and poetic portrayal of characters striving to break free from societal constraints. It tackles themes of gender inequality, toxic masculinity, and the stifling grip of tradition with unflinching honesty.

The film follows the story of Ada, a young woman living in a remote Russian village, who dreams of escaping the confines of her oppressive father ( Alik Karaev), who controls every aspect of her life, denying her the liberty to make her own choices. Ada lives with her father and younger brother in a remote border town of Russia. Her father wants to control every aspect of his daughter's life from where she goes, to with whom she spends time to what perfume she is supposed to wear. One must admit the powerful performance by Alik Karaev who just by his sheer dialogue delivery conveys the authoritativeness and patriarchy.

Her life takes a favourable turn when her elder brother Akim (Soslan Khugaev) returns to the town and takes reins in his own hands. He seems to be determined to set her free and soon her father's illness kindles a hope in her heart. Milana Aguzarova delivers a standout performance, embodying the character's silent determination and fierce resilience. Despite the limited dialogue, Aguzarova conveys a wide range of emotions through her expressive eyes and physicality. Her portrayal beautifully captures the internal struggle between societal expectations and the longing for personal freedom. Aguzarova's ability to convey Ada's internal conflicts and emotional turmoil through subtle expressions and gestures is a testament to her exceptional talent as an actress. She breathes life into Ada's character, allowing audiences to empathize with her struggles, hopes, and dreams.

"Unclenching the Fists" is an impressive debut from director Kira Kovalenko, showcasing her talent for storytelling and visual aesthetics. It sheds light on a lesser-known aspect of Russian society, presenting a vivid and intimate portrait of individuals struggling against societal constraints. Kira Kovalenko's direction shines throughout the film, delicately weaving together moments of tenderness, heartache, and triumph. She adeptly captures the essence of rural life, presenting a candid portrayal of the struggles faced by those living on the margins of society. Kovalenko's masterful use of visual storytelling further enhances the narrative, with the claustrophobic confines of Ada's oppressive surroundings. Through its poetic and gripping journey, the film leaves a lasting impression, reminding us of the resilience of the human spirit even in the harshest of circumstances.

About The director, Kira Kovalenko

Born in December 1989, in Nalchik, Russia, Kira initially studied web design. She later went to learn film making under Alexander Sokurov when he openned a film school in their town. After graduation, Kovalenko stayed in St Petersburg and Moscow briefly. Her first feature film 'Sofichka' was based on Fazil Iskander's novel of the same name and was released in 2016. The movie featured in competition section of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival and was awarded at the XV International Debut Film Festival. 'Unclenching the Fists', is her second movie, filmed in North Ossetia, Russia in only around 25 days.

She along with her partner Kantemir Balagov are currently staying in US after they had to flee Russia due to their anti-war views, which Russia embarked on, with Ukraine.