The goal of any great film is to find a way to connect with its audience. If we can be drawn into the world that has been created and see ourselves in the characters onscreen, the film is sure to be a hit. With Natasha, directed by David Bezmozgis and opening May 6, 2016 after screening at the 2016 Toronto Jewish Film Festival on opening night, the connection is not only strong, but rather uncomfortable as well.
Natasha is the story of Mark (Alex Ozerov), a teen living in a Toronto suburbs who spends his time reading, avoiding getting a real job, and selling pot to make extra money. His parents are on his case about finding work but he’d rather spend his days doing something other than being an employee. When his uncle gets married to a woman with a daughter, Natasha (Sasha K. Gordon) from Russia and brings them to Canada, Mark’s parents tell him they’ve found something for him to do. To help his uncle start his new life on the right foot, they want Mark to hang out with Natasha every day, giving the newlywed couple some space. Mark is less than excited, but quickly finds spending time with Natasha to be anything but boring. The two begin a relationship that has only one outcome, no matter what Mark does to save it.
Young love is something we can all understand, and chances are that most people will have one relationship in their past that they know would never have worked, even if they tried their hardest. It’s what makes watching Natasha so heartbreaking. In our years of experience over Mark, we can easily tell this isn’t going to end well, but he’s such a wonderful character that you can’t help but wish it could somehow work. This was where my conversation with director David Bezmozgis began when he spoke to me over the phone before the film opened in May.
“Watching a work of art that allows you to reflect back on who you are and who you were, to me, that’s a successful artistic experience that’s real.”
“For a while it was very good for [Mark]. You can’t say the entire experience was negative. They were having a real connection, a real romance. I think maybe the viewer can probably tell from the beginning, because we’re older and wiser, that there’s probably not a way that this relationship can turn out well. Until all the things happen that lead to its collapse, there’s also this halcyon period where it’s true love that they have. It’s peculiar but real.” Bezmozgis says about the way in which viewers see the film.
Of course, just because we may realize that things can only end in disaster, that doesn’t mean that this isn’t a crucial point in Mark’s life, and by extension an important moment in many viewer’s lives. “When we talk about making mistakes in our lives, what that usually means is we’ve done something that we enjoyed for a certain amount of time not realizing that it was doomed to fail. When people talk about making mistakes it’s not like ‘I started doing something and it was horrible right from the beginning.’ Rather what you mean is ‘I was doing something that was a bad decision that felt really good for a while but I didn’t have the maturity or the foresight to know that it can’t last.'”
Sitting down to watch Natasha winds up being an experience that will probably be wildly different for each viewer, depending on your place in life at that moment. For older audience members, it may bring back memories of past relationships that we can now see would never have worked, for someone younger, it may take on the shape of something they’re currently a part of. If you have kids, there’s a sense that you’re not only watching something that may have happened to you, but something that will probably happen to them as well. For Bezmozgis, it’s confirmation that his film is working. “Watching a work of art that allows you to reflect back on who you are and who you were and also project ahead into the lives of your children and try to reconcile those two things, to me, that’s a successful artistic experience that’s real.”
While Mark is a character that many people can instantly relate to, he’s a character that is built from many parts, and one of those is an absolutely stunning soundtrack. Where most films will carry the musical cues that push our emotions in a certain direction, Natasha takes a different approach. “I’m glad you mentioned that,” Bezmozgis begins. “There was an idea for the film, in its entirety, which is to be authentic. That began with the casting, so we’re casting authentic Russian speakers to fill these roles. We shot on location so you see the city as it is, and that extended to the music which is what sorts of things would Mark be listening to? The sort of guy that he is, to my mind, it’s a type of independent pop music that I guess a lot of people wouldn’t be familiar with. The music consultants that I was working with helped out a lot because we were looking for music that fits the mood, is hip in the way that Mark would want to be hip. A lot of these happened to be Canadian indie acts.”
When all the elements come together like this, Natasha becomes a film that will stick with you for a very long time. It’s as if the longer you think about it, the more chance you have to alter the end result. It’s not a film you simply sit and watch. This is something that you experience. We can see how things can never work properly for Mark and Natasha, but we want to go back and fix it, or change something so that the outcome is different. Just like with life, this isn’t something you can ever do, so the story sticks with you long after the credits have finished. Audiences now have the chance to experience this film, as it opens Friday, May 6, 2016 at Famous Players Canada Square.