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71 min. Russian.

In 2013, Dima Ilukhin, the cousin of the film’s director and a soldier in the Russian army, died on duty in the Republic of Dagestan in the North Caucasus. He was 21 years old.
This incident marks the starting point for Abaturov’s reflection on the military. He films the training of new recruits in Siberia, as they bid farewell to their mothers and girlfriends, learn the mechanics of a Kalashnikov, or how to throw a hand grenade and administer first aid.
While his parents try to cope with their loss, Dima’s former fellow recruits have to return to battle. They too have first-hand experience of the losses caused by war. Some of them dream of their dead friend.
For their part, those hoping for new places are still trying to prove their mettle. The toughest among them try to get into the Spetsnaz, the Russian military’s special forces. Ultimately, only 34 out of 112 applicants win the right to wear the iconic red beret, after a series of gruelling tests. As they and their comrades are swallowed up by the huge belly of the aircraft supposed to transport them to the front, it’s only then that you see apprehension flash across their faces. (Marie Kloos)

Alexander Abaturov was born in Novosibirsk, former Soviet Union, now Russia in 1984. After studying Communications at the A. M. Gorky Ural State University in Yekatarinburg, he became a journalist. In 2010, he earned a master’s degree from L’École documentaire in Lussas, France. In 2013, he made his first documentary, the medium-length Sleeping Souls. Syn is his first full-length documentary film.

A soldier’s short life

How do you film absence, or emptiness?
SYN takes place several months after Dima’s death. We are neither in the immediacy of the event nor in the following grieving period, but ‘afterwards’ – an afterwards that needs to be rebuilt day-by-day, step-by-step. The film happens today and is turned towards an uncertain future – on the one hand for the parents, and on the other for the children. They should be together, united in the family home; but instead, their sons are being trained to kill. By filming their day-to-day lives, I film, in the gaps, the life of he who is no longer with us, Dima’s life. In a second, the present can come to an end: the film reveals the imminent danger of a daily routine carried out in the ever-present shadow of death.
The editing process helps to establish links and connections between different parts of the film. By constructing parallels between divergent images, I invite the soldiers from Dima’s unit into his apartment – an apartment he will no longer return to. In this way, we are shown an impossible image, one that can longer exist: what Dima experienced in the army while his parents were at home. While Sacha watches TV and Natalia bustles about, we watch the younger brothers in training. It could be Dima, but it’s no longer him. And Natalia becomes, metaphorically, a mother to all these boys touched by death.
Dima is no longer one of the hundreds of soldiers who have been killed; he is a son, a ‘bratichka’, a younger brother. The film fights against the discarnation of the army to create in the spectator a feeling of brotherhood for Dima, and for the other soldiers.
The last time I saw Dima, as I was about to go abroad again and he was leaving for his last mission, we watched THE THIN RED LINE by Terrence Malick together. I asked him what he thought of it. No, he didn’t like it. The voice-over, the melancholy, always evoking death. ‘He’s young, he exists, and is still alive. Why does he talk about death? He needs to make the most of the short time he has’ he said to me. ‘FULL METAL JACKET, that I understand, that’s what I call a film, it’s my favourite.’ And now, I can no longer make a ‘serious’ film or a tearjerker even though I find it difficult to hold myself back. (Alexander Abaturov)

Production Rebecca Houzel, Marina Silvanovich, Boris Carré. Production companies Petit à Petit Production (Paris, France), Studio IDA (Novosibirsk, Russian Federation), Siberiade (Paris, France). Written and directed by Alexander Abaturov. Director of photography Artiom Petrov. Editing Luc Forveille. Sound Alexander Kalachnikov.

World sales Andana Films


2013: Sleeping Souls (53 min.). 2018: Syn / The Son.

Photo: © Petit à petit productions

Funded by:

  • Logo Minister of State for Culture and the Media
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