KVIFF 2018: Tverdovskiy's 'Jumpman' is a Compelling Tale of Dignity
by Alex Billington
July 4, 2018
"There are those who jump, and those who make others jump." This line from the film is the one line that sums up the entire story and why it's being told, and it's a meaningful statement, one that should resonate with every single person no matter where they're from. Jumpman is a Russian drama about a boy who is born with a rare disease that prevents him from feeling any pain - though everything else functions as usual. It's the latest film made by Russian filmmaker Ivan I. Tverdovskiy (Corrections Class, Zoology) and it's an intimate, indie drama made with an intense focus on the main character, a compelling tale of dignity and integrity and humanity. It's an impressive, captivating film that I really enjoyed, even though it's cynical and depressing, there's hope found in the heart of this young boy. The filmmaking pulls us deep into that story.
Jumpman stars Denis Vlasenko as Denis, a boy who grew up in an orphanage after his mother left him in a "baby box" after he was born. The other boys learn about his "special" ability to not feel pain, and he plays a torturous game with them there, where they tighten hoses around his body and pull them as hard as they can until he passes out. One day his mother Oksana, played by Anna Slyu, returns to the orphanage and decides to bring him home, and Denis is initially very happy spending his time with her. He starts working as a "jumpman", jumping in front of cars and working with a group of corrupt individuals in a scheme to get as much money out of the driver as possible. But he soon realizes he's only being used for their gain, at the expense of his own health, and starts to understand maybe this isn't the best life for him. But can he escape?
The filmmaking is assured and alluring, with an engaging classical score by Kirill Richter, and stylistic modern cinematography by Denis Alarcón Ramirez. This film had my attention right from the start and kept me intrigued all the way through, even if I could see where it was going. But I still enjoyed watching it all play out, with Vlasenko giving a strong lead performance. However, the film doesn't spend enough time establishing Denis at the start, or giving us a chance to get to know him. Instead, it skips ahead in time to when he's older and his mom returns, and we only ever see one time where the other boys participate in that game with him. It would have helped immensely to build the character further if there was more time spent in the orphanage, which is vital later once the story plays out and he starts to realize what's most important.
Once the film moves into the main part of the plot, there's much more to work with and it's a thoroughly impressive film despite the challenges he goes through in the real world. There's a batch of shady characters who coordinate Denis' work as a jumpman, introducing him to a fancier world of elite but corrupt people. Eventually he starts to figure it out, and that's where we see his character really develop. He doesn't speak up, but inside he begins to understand. He learns that it's all about sticking with the people who really mean something to you, not the ones who want to take advantage of you. He even says at one point that everyone is evil, and it's that discovery that leads him to step back. At its core, this is what the film is really about, and it's a worthwhile experience because we get to meet an increasingly rare individual - a person with integrity.
Alex's Karlovy Vary 2018 Rating: 8 out of 10
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