Based on a true story, "The Italian" opens with an Italian couple heading through a Russian town that looks to have been worn down by the Winter that currently holds it in its grip. The couple is being escorted by one of the owners of an orphanage and the car breaks down in the middle of what appears to be nowhere, with a snowy, almost otherworldly landscape on all sides of them. The owner, known only as Madam (Maria Kuznetsova), makes a phone call and, soon enough, a little group of orphans has seemingly materialized out of the Wintery landscape in order to push the car the remaining distance.
The nice, middle-class Italian couple has come to the orphanage for an easy road to an adoption without any legal hassle. The couple has chosen Vanya (Kolya Spiridonov), a cute little 6-year-old who's one of the youngest kids at the run-down home. While everyone else - including a group of older teens who seemingly micro-manage the place - thinks that he's the lucky one to be able to leave the place and find a nice life in Italy, he's not so sure.
Vanya wonders what if his mother comes back to find him, and - in an attempt to seek her out - he teaches himself to read and gets into his file at the orphanage. With only his wits and an address to guide him, the little kid sets off across the somber landscape in order to seek out the woman who gave him up years ago.
So starts a journey over a rugged and haunting (as grim as it sometimes appears, there's a richness and texture to the images that resulted in my attention sometimes being pulled away to study the fascinating areas surrounding the action) landscape that's beautifully photographed by cinematographer Aleksandr Burov. Along the way, Vanya meets an assortment of people - some helpful, some not (a pair of bullies) - and is followed by the orphanage owners, who don't want to lose a potential payment from the couple who wanted to adopt Vanya.
Despite the fact that the film revolves around a child, this isn't really a family movie, due to some darker moments and a rather grim tone at times. However, older children and teens may enjoy the feature, which offers an incredible performance from Spiridonov, who is believable as a cute kid who's able to rely on his own wits when he finds himself having to make it through a rough journey in the world.
Overall, this was a moving and engaging road movie that offered some fascinating scenery and solid performances, especially from young Spiridonov, whose performance is quite natural and entertaining.
VIDEO: "The Italian" is presented by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is a lovely transfer of often chilly scenery. Sharpness and detail are terrific, as every little detail of the locations is clearly visible and very fine details are often seen. Aside from some slight grain, no issues were spotted - no edge enhancement, artifacting or other issues were seen. Colors remain subdued throughout, but appeared accurately presented.
SOUND: The film is presented in Russian Dolby Digital 5.1 w/yellow English subtitles. Audio quality is quite good, with clear, natural-sounding dialogue. The presentation puts the surrounds to minimal use, although that's to be expected from a film like this.
EXTRAS: Previews for other titles from the studio.
Final Thoughts: "The Italian" is a moving and engaging road movie that offered some remarkable scenery and solid performances, especially from young Spiridonov, whose performance is quite natural and engaging. The DVD offers excellent video quality and fine audio but sadly, no extras regarding the production of the film. Recommended.
The Film B+