Last night, our library showed Ostrov — a popular movie in Russia that did well at Sundance. When I first heard about this movie (I’ve forgotten where, now), I knew I wanted to see it. didn’t know I wanted to see it, but when she saw the description at the library, she knew I would be interested. (Aside: My three oldest children were the only kids there. One of the older ladies asked us afterwards if we were Russian — our children behaved so well through a subtitled film! Little did she know that they always turn on subtitles — even for English language films.) Here’s the synopsis from Amazon:

Somewhere in Northern Russia in a small Russian Orthodox monastery lives a very unusual man. His fellow-monks are confused by his bizarre conduct. Those who visit the island believe that the man has the power to heal, exorcise demons and foretell the future. However, he considers himself unworthy because of a sin he committed in his youth. The film is a parable, combining the realities of Russian everyday life with monastic ritual and routine.

Ostrov is steeped in (Russian) Orthodox monasticism, so well over a third of it is prayers or psalms, but this is what monastics do: they pray. If orthopraxis were simply about living in a way that others could look at and say “Yes, Father Job is a Holy Man” then Father Job would be the center of attention in this film. Instead Father Job, like the prodigal son’s brother, seems jealous of Father Anatoli’s gifts. In the meantime, Father Anatoli, instead of living a blissfully pious life, is wracked with guilt and isn’t a very pleasant person to be around. He’s humble and gifted, to be sure, but he lacks intelligence and people skills. And that last part is precisely what makes the film so attractive to me. When he was asked why he was spending time with sinners, Jesus replied “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick.” Father Anatoli is clearly not a holy man, but he is blessed, and he blesses others. (I recommend this movie highly. Still, if you see it, read some of the comments on Amazon.com or IMDB. There are some parts where the subtitles are incorrect. For example, near the end of the movie, he asks someone “Will you take a confession?” and the subtitles translate this as “Do you want to go to confession?”)

2 thoughts on “Ostrov”

  1. Ostrov

    Just out of curiosity — are you Orthodox? If so, I’m a little surprised at your take on this movie. If not, it’s more understandable. In fact, Fr. Anatoli is a *very* holy man — his level of repentance is so deep that he has been rewarded by God with the gift of clairvoyance, seen when he predicts that the girl who wants an abortion will instead have a “golden child,” when he tells the “widow” that her husband is in fact alive and living in France (and his humility is highlighted when he goes into the hut and appears to have a conversation with himself — he simply doesn’t want her to know that *he* is the famed holy man), when he predicts the fire that takes place in the abbot’s cell, and when he subsequently burns all the abbot’s possessions — understanding that nice boots and a comfy blanket have no place in a monastery. He is *not* wracked by guilt, he is in deep repentance — and Orthodox Christians understand repentance to be the goal of everyone’s life (many of us say the Jesus Prayer, the one that opens the film, on a daily basis), and “people skills” just aren’t a monastic requirement.

    With all that in mind, I suggest you revisit this film. Then, if you’re still not getting it, visit your nearest Orthodox church — I promise they won’t nab you as a potential convert, but it’s getting wearing to see how many people misunderstand the great beauty of this film and interpret Fr. Anatoli’s repentance as “guilt.” Honestly… (signed) Meg Lark

    1. Re: Ostrov

      Yes, I’m Orthodox. I converted about 10 years ago.

      I’m confused — what makes you think I didn’t like the the film. I pretty much agree with your whole comment — except the point where you think I didn’t “get” it.

      FWIW, I do recognise Fr Anatoli’s repentance. Was that the only thing that cause you to think I didn’t “get” it?

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