There are faint echoes of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tale The Snow Queen in Natalya Kudryashova’s second feature, but this modern Russian fairytale finds its nature magic up against dreary cityscapes and patriarchal oppression. Lera (Anastasiya Krasovskaya) is a young sociology student forced by circumstance into her family’s caretaker role: her mother is ill and her father violent, and thankfully mostly absent. By night, she goes by Gerda, dancing at a strip club to keep a roof over her family’s head. She finds escape with her friend Oleg (Yuriy Borisov) and in dreams: whether hallucinations, childhood memories, or visions of the future, Lera knows her soul comes from something bigger and more mysterious than the mundane she must survive.

Krasovskaya’s performance emphasises Lera’s constant observation and quiet study of her world without losing sight of the character’s brittle core. She barely manages the stoicism necessary to get through her day, and the constant cracks manifest in confused tears and futile rage. Like her alter ego’s namesake, she is battling against the cold and winning only in her dreams.

Kudryashova’s camera pays equal attention to human bodies and the austere natural and man-made worlds that these bodies must navigate daily. This focus, and the frequent occurrence of violence, highlights the fundamental, horrifying softness of flesh against the elements. The constant dangers are underlined with a pulsing score that gives neither Lera nor viewers a break. Bodies and tense music are notably absent in Lera’s dreams, where everything maintains an eerie order. It is left to the viewer to decide whether the older terrors or the new ones are the more dangerous.

With natural and urban imagery creating a new symbolic language for modernity, Gerda finds beauty underneath urban and spiritual rot. A strong, unnerving feature, Lera’s transformation is hard to forget. 



CAST: Anastasiya Krasovskaya, Yuriy Borisov, Yulia Marchenko, Darius Gumauskas

DIRECTOR: Natalya Kudryashova

WRITER: Natalya Kudryashova

SYNOPSIS: Lera is a sociology student by day and an exotic dancer, under the name Gerda, at night in this fairytale retelling.