On August 7 2014, Oleg Sirota heard how his beloved Russia was banning the import of all Western cheeses; a retaliation to the sanctions forced upon them for their invasion of Crimea. For most, the news was a tragedy. For Sirota, it was the opportunity to fulfill a dream. The opportunity to jump through this loophole, and serve his country through the creation of the Russian cheese industry. His primary focus was the birth of his shop “Russian Parmesan”.

Ben Garfield’s charming and quirky short War & Cheese is crafted well. It toys with its audience throughout, ever changing the lens through which we perceive Sirota. To begin, we embrace him as a charming, proud and ambitious (if naive) businessman. Having sold two “expensive” cars and his IT business, and changed his whole lifestyle to fulfil his dream of producing Russian cheese, you can’t help but warm to him. An underdog, trying to make a better life for himself and his country.

It’s with the latter element, his motherland Russia, where we see Sirota’s other characteristics: he’s a fierce nationalist, with no sympathy to the rebels of Crimea. The fact underscoring the short is that this local cheese-monger’s success hangs on sanctions remaining for the next 15 years. He offers to create bronze statues of Merkel, Obama and David Cameron if they do. And even then, his extraordinary hopes of having 6,000 cheese factories in Russia, despite the absence of the correct equipment or heritage, makes Sirota an affable, if flawed, character.

Garfield removes any real directorial flair for this fascinating character study. No fine cuts, no noticeable “style” as such, no quirky score to indicate his personal views. Garfield simply lets his DoP Danny Salkhov capture his world – a cold, clear, ice-covered slice of Russia, filled with blue cheese and strange characters.

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INFORMATION

DIRECTOR: Ben Garfield

WRITER: Ben Garfield

DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY: Danny Salkhov

SOUND DESIGN: Peter Warnock

SYNOPSIS: The story of Oleg Sirota and the birth of his proposed Russian cheese movement.