Written and directed by Claude Chamis, co-written by Sylvain Maugens, Ivan (Aram Arakelyan) is a young Russian vagrant in Paris. Rejected by all, he takes refuge in the woods of Vincennes, but this new haven of peace turns into a nightmare when he tries to resist the traffic of an underworld wildlife. Also starring: Benjamin Baclet, Camille Freychet, Franck Zerbib, Corine Watrin and Pablo Alarson.
There’s a very clear style to this film right from the beginning, it leans into a philosophical, ethereal, gentle and contemplative atmosphere while its visual focuses on the details to create a poetic tone to its story. However, some aspects of that style work much better than others, without doubt the aesthetic is where this film thrives, its cinematography (by Thibaut De Chemellier) really draws the most out of what the locations have to offer. It’s sharp and, for the most part, smoothly edited creating a textured visual but unfortunately that quality goes unmatched by its story.
The majority of it is told through a narration, exploring Ivan’s life in Russia before he escaped to Europe; it focuses almost uncomfortably strongly on his mother, it establishes that they had a very close, caring connection well before it finishes talking about their relationship, which feels unnecessary. That isn’t inherently an issue in itself but the other themes that it tries to bring through of his depression, suicidal thoughts, vulnerability and experience as an immigrant are not explored deeply enough to balance out the extremely sentimental monologue. It touches a lot upon death and has an edge of darkness to its story but it goes underdeveloped, instead holding on to that poetic, gentle tone. The progression also struggles to move forward, the story can feel repetitive at times and it becomes too stuck on that contemplative vein to get out of its own way and allow the story to deepen.
Ivan’s character doesn’t entirely feel fleshed out enough to be focused on so strongly, there are a few jarring changes to his attitude and there isn’t too much of an opportunity to develop his personality. That then restricts the ability to create a tangible amount of sympathy, inherently his position of homelessness and solitude provides some of that but it’s not enough to see the film to its end. In turn that then affects the quality of Arakelyan’s performance, it’s hard to decipher whether the anger and unsocial tendencies are coming simply from his situation or if that’s part of who he is. There also isn’t a great deal of variety for him to achieve in this role, it is very true to its name and does simply follow his wanderings for a large portion of the film, again making it hard to judge based solely on flashes of emotion mixed with extended periods of brooding and isolation.
The Wanderings of Ivan captures a sharp, detailed and textured visual which its story simply can’t live up to. Chamis’s skills as a director are sadly heavily outweighing those as a writer with this film, he touches upon a number of different significant themes but stops far too short of giving them the exploration that they needed. Unfortunately, you can see the elements at play of what these filmmakers were going for but they don’t come together enough to make it work.