Vassily Sigarev's "Wolfy" wasn't even supposed to screen in Karlovy Vary. At the very last minute, after the festival's materials had been printed and the program was ready to go, the festival received a call from the film's producers saying they wanted "Wolfy" in competition. The festival happily obliged, and now - as the festival nears its final days - "Wolfy" seems like a strong contender for the festival's top prize, the Crystal Globe.
A haunting tale of child abuse set within a bleak representation of contemporary Russia, "Wolfy" follows a subject matter present throughout much of Karlovy Vary's main competition. Frederic Dumont's Belgian-Canadian co-production "Angel at Sea" details the horrifying relationship between a suicidal father and his 12-year old son, while Martin Pieter's Danish "Applause" stars Paprika Steen as a recovering alcoholic attempting to reunite with her young children after years of abusing them. While both admirable efforts, neither of those films observe their themes with the complexity and ingenuity that Sigarev's does.
"Wolfy" follows the relationship between a young girl (played by newcomer Polina Plutček - chosen from 5,000 girls during a casting call), and her vicious, sociopathic mother (played by Sigarev's wife Yana Troyanova). The girl is essentially left on her own for most of her childhood (save for bare minimum parenting care of her dour grandmother and her invalid aunt) as her mother comes and in out her life through cycles of alcohol-fueled violence and intense verbal abuse.
"I wanted to tell a story of a mother and daughter, and of God, who should be there with them but for some reason isn't," Sigarev said at the film's press conference. "The primary goal was to capture a child's memories on film, however cruel they might be."
Sigarev - a renowned playwright in his native Russia - adapted the film from his own play. "Wolfy" marks his cinematic debut, and he was coy in returning journalist's questions as to whether he would continue to work in film. "For me, ['Wolfy'] doesn't mean losing theater nor leaning towards filmmaking," he said.
Sigarev also acknowledged that much of the script came about on the basis of Yana Troyanova's childhood memories, which makes her performance all the more terrifying. Suggestively playing some version of one her own parental figures, Troyanov makes Mo'Nique's similarly abusive character in "Precious" look angelic in comparison.
"I've often heard that people would like to kill me for playing this role and I know that means I acted it well," Troyanov said at the press conference. "I played absolute evil."
Karlovy Vary's mid-week presentation of "Wolfy" was its second festival screening, after winning best film, best actress and best screenplay at the Sochi International Film Festival a few weeks back. It's likely just the beginning of the film's festival presence, though Sigarev warned that he's not expecting any audience awards.
"It's no audience hit because it's not a movie for everybody," he said. "But the jury in Sochi voted for it unanimously."
The Karlovy Vary International Film Festival continues through this weekend.