Try, if you can, to ignore a few things about the otherwise-worthy A Room and a Half. First, turn a blind eye to the main character: a graying literary lion (Dityatkovskiy) returning from Soviet-era exile to his home in icy St. Petersburg. He’s meant to have the toughness of Jewish poet Joseph Brodsky—on whose memoirs this quasidramatization is based—but the guy comes across like a Felliniesque dirty old man, complete with trench coat and misty eyes. Then, if possible, forget most of the plot. It’s mainly nostalgic nonsense about schoolteachers with fantasy-wide asses, or having teenage sex while the walls shudder and Mom and Dad frown. Even deportation gets a gloss. Finally, you’d best give up on all the performances, too.
What’s left, for those able to seriously compartmentalize? Director Andrey Khrzhanovsky is one of Russia’s slyest animators—as anarchic as Terry Gilliam was in his Python prime. So while his live-action scenes leave much to be desired, Khrzhanovsky fills the margins of A Room and a Half with glorious doodles: yawning cats penning love letters to former flings; spectral violins floating high above the city; spiky silhouettes pouring out of a truck to bring violence to the ghetto. This is not to be glib about the sincerity of the movie’s intent: Brodsky never did get to return, so the film is a well-meaning act of creative revision. But emotionally, it simply doesn’t connect unless the cruelty is being thrown into childlike relief. Most emblematically, the glorious casseroles and veggies of a fantasy cookbook come to life, but young Joseph (Ogandzhanyan) is forbidden to taste them. The jolly chef? Stalin himself.—Joshua Rothkopf
Now playing at Film Forum.