The film you anticipate from Renato Borrayo Serrano’s narrative investigation of a Nenets lady bringing five small kids up in the Cold tundra is, in an unobtrusively pivotal way, not the one Serrano conveys with the unfazed “Life of Ivanna.” When it has become very nearly a statement of belief that the motivation behind such ethnographic representations is to make compassion with societies and ways of life totally unfamiliar to our own — we all pursuing that little puff of serotonin we get from a consoling, “where it counts, we are no different either way” moral — it is unreasonably outstanding to demand so gladly regarding a matter’s detached and disobedient selfhood. With Ivanna — skilled, pugnacious, chain-smoking Ivanna — compassion would be a burden.
We are met rather with an unadorned cut of very hard, incredibly unstable everyday routine that is still by one way or another experienced with a vigorous and unsentimental assurance. At 26, Ivanna lives in a little one-room lodge on skis with her five children, going in age from Yulianna, a young lady of perhaps 10 or 12, down to an infant actually being bottle-taken care of. While there are two adjoining lodges close by whose tenants we sporadically glimpse laid out in a blizzard, or equipping a group of reindeer to drag the homes to another, similarly featureless fix of permafrost, the genuine impression is of Ivanna and her children alone together, in the claustrophobic bounds of the cabin, inside the amazingly agoraphobic monstrosity of the tundra.
Ivanna infrequently grins. Her youngsters for the most part call her “Iva,” when they’re not utilizing more decision sobriquets. Her child, scarcely more than baby, has effectively gotten a luxuriously pungent vocabulary from the swearwords she often barks out. In some cases he plays with an enormous kitchen blade, hacking ceaselessly cheerfully at a stick while Ivanna smokes quietly in the corner.
The lodge is little to such an extent that in spite of the fact that Serrano’s drive is to intercede as little as could really be expected, we can’t resist the opportunity to know about the camera’s essence. Some of the time, Ivanna is found looking over to where he or co-DP and co-essayist Daria Sidorova should be crouched; now and again she talks momentarily to them offscreen, or offers them a beverage. In any case, while the children also play up to the camera, for significant length they all appear to neglect it’s there, as they move all through the tight, bolted off outline that contains the whole little, shabby universe wherein they live.
Slowly we gain proficiency with a tad bit of Ivanna’s backstory. In her brisk voiceover she recounts getting pregnant at 15, of another child who kicked the bucket, of her better half Gena, of when she previously went to class and didn’t have the foggiest idea how to climb steps, never having seen any. In any case, these subtleties are sparingly uncovered, and hands down the briefest suggestions to her Nenets legacy are made, over pictures of her and the children eating the liver crude and warm from a recently executed deer or bringing pails of freezing water from an opening in the ice. And, after its all said and done, the image they assemble is simply of the conditions of her life. Whatever musings and dreams Ivanna has, past the viable craving for a more pleasant house and a less hardscrabble everyday, remain her own privileged insights.
Serrano recorded throughout four years, however “Life of Ivanna” isn’t a continuum. Rather it is cut up by a long scene wherein Ivanna and the youngsters go to visit Gena in the house where he resides with a few others, on the edge of the frozen desert. There follows heightening tipsiness, karaoke and a demonstration of aggressive behavior at home that Serrano infers is a final irritation that will be tolerated for Ivanna’s marriage. It’s a disquietingly inauspicious interval – not least in its uncommonly matter-of-actuality depiction of the liquor addiction that is an unavoidable truth around here – yet it contains one of this hopelessly attractive film’s most capturing sytheses.