Bodrov's excellent movie has no more flab than its young hero, a tough but doe-eyed teenager in a black-leather jacket who escapes from reform school and traverses the USSR in search of his father, also in prison. The title really ought to be FIP since, like the other kids in the reform school, 13-year-old Sasha has the acronym SER ('svoboda eto rai') tattooed on his arm as a kind of badge of hope. His quest takes him from Alma Ata (the city where Bodrov got his own first break) all the way to Archangel (site of Lenin's first gulag): an ideal itinerary for a road movie, full of regional and ethnic variety and rich in political associations. Bodrov, a one-time satirical journalist, starts from the assumption that almost everyone in the USSR is conditioned to think and behave like a prisoner. But his focus is squarely on Sasha's resilience, imagination and emotional needs. As a picture of childhood's end, it's strong enough to stand alongside genre classics like My Life as a Dog and A Summer at Grandpa's; and the fluency and simplicity of Bodrov's film language makes it a pleasure to watch.
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