In a Yakut village in the Sakha Republic of Russia, Ignat lives a simple life with his son. However, when his son kills another man in a drunken accident, he’s taken away and Ignat’s simple life is ruined. Saddened and alone, the elderly Ignat finds hope in a local vagrant boy, hoping to impart the lessons to the boy that failed to help his son.
It’s uncommon for low-budget feature debuts to have as sharp a visual style or as sympathetic a voice as Bonfire. Not that Bonfire escapes all the shortcomings of low-budget indies, but it still manages to be a quietly confident drama about remote life and familial guilt.
Director Dimitrii Davydov keeps the pace slow and the emotions muted. His camera is often impartial, observing the rhythms of Ignat and the other villagers. For instance, we often see Ignat praying to an icon of Jesus or patiently carving boxes out of wood. These rhythms are important because they keep Ignat focused on work and help him resist the lure of alcohol, which seems to torment the majority of the villagers, including his son.
Alcohol and its ill consequences provide most of the drama in this film. It incites the plot and plays into the tragic ending. Otherwise, dramatic conflict is mostly absent in Bonfire. Characters go about their business and Davydov never injects artificial tension. In moments, it almost seems like he’s filming a documentary, which keeps the film honest, if a little timid. In the end, Bonfire is interesting in its particularity, but mildly unambitious.