Vancouver Queer Film Festival 2014: An unexpected bond between Russian men in Winter Journey

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In Russian, with English subtitles.

Opera singer Erik is talented, but as his austere vocal coach reminds him, talent isn't enough to make it in the world. As he faces immense pressure to live a strict life (of only sleep, walks, and Schubert) in preparation for a fate-determining audition, he rebels through drink and partying with his gay friends.

During an altercation on a bus, homeless street criminal Lyokha takes off with Erik's phone.

Lyokha becomes entranced by Erik's classical music on his phone and when the two meet again later, they become fascinated with each other's contrasting lives.

In spite of his homophobia, Lyokha's hidden emotional depths rise surface when he listens to Erik singing and Erik soon develops a loyalty to the volatile, sexually ambiguous Lyokha.

Erik's gay friends form a kind of mafia of their own, who serve as a parallel to the dangerous gangs that Lyokha tangles with.

The compelling performances of and chemistry between the two leads (Aleksei Frandetti as Erik and Evgeny Tkachuk as Lyokha) drive the drama as it alternates between reflective moments and bursts of verbal and physical violence.

Melancholic existentialism underscores both the narrative and the tenuous bond that the odd couple form, and it's reflected in the quietly beautiful cinematography and crisp cinematic construction that captures an emotionally and socially stark Moscow in winter. Despite their extreme class divisions, the pair seem to share a mutual longing for companionship.

This Vancouver Queer Film Festival selection serves as a different view of gay Russia from the one that Children 404 offers. The pair together (as part of the festival's Queer Russia, With Love) suggests that although the climate may be harsh, queer Russians will continue on finding hope in whatever form it may come and however brief it may be.

Winter Journey screens at the Vancouver Queer Film Festival on August 23 at 9 p.m. at Cineplex Odeon International Village.

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