Wised-up Natasha has bittersweet edge

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      Starring Alex Ozerov. In English and Russian, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable

      The aspirations and heartbreak of the immigrant experience are captured with bittersweet precision in Natasha, a second adaptation by writer-director David Bezmozgis of his own, award-winning work. The still-young novelist covered some of this territory, more tentatively, in 2009’s Victoria Day. His visual storytelling is only somewhat improved here, but his insightful dialogue and talent for apt casting give the new movie enough sharp edges to make it memorable on most levels.

      Alex Ozerov plays 16-year-old Mark, a gentle Toronto suburbanite lazing away his summer reading Nietzsche and selling pot, the better to avoid employment. Things change when Mark’s mom (Deanna Dezmari, an Ashley Judd type only 12 years older than Ozerov) gives him a task: when his uncle remarries, Mark’s supposed to look after his new stepcousin, 14-year-old Natasha (excellent Sasha K. Gordon), who doesn’t speak any English.

      She soon turns the tables on this would-be mentor with her wised-up demeanour and sexual aggressiveness. Natasha’s a withering presence around her own mother (Aya-Tatyana Stolnits) but an angel in the company of Mark’s parents, whom she sees as blessedly normal. Her own childhood was harrowing, as we learn, and the boy gets in over his head. Their own connection is tender and confusing, but this doesn’t explain why Mark would drag Natasha on his drug deals before he even gets to know her. And his relationship with a philosophical pot supplier (Aidan Shipley) feels like a missed opportunity.

      Like Bezmozgis, much of the cast is Russian-born, and that limitation—given the Canadian setting—might explain the diversity of appearance for Latvian characters who keep commenting on whether or not people “look Jewish”. Perhaps this is intentional. Mark is caught between his own life and that of people who keep hanging on to old identities, real or imagined.