When the age of the protagonists doesn’t exceed eighteen years, we are already in a cinematic area with a strong emotional impact, all the more when these youngsters face reclusion or draconian discipline which inevitably brings out of the individual either the absolute good, or evil. Designed as a foray into the life of the Maritime Academy cadets, ‘Going AWOL‘ is an emotional panorama of some young boys’ attempts to find their own vocation, but also a sensible metaphor about maturity, friendship, devotion and sacrifice. Even though director Sergey Tselikov is not concerned with the intellectual affinities of the cadets, as it happens in ‘Dead Poets Society’, or with the extremely violent initiation rituals as in the screening of Jan Guillou’s novel (Evil), the Russian director manages to place his short film between these two extremes, exploring the moral dilemma of a student who defends his colleagues when their future careers are jeopardized. Beyond these relatively minor references that set out some thematic premise slightly guiding this short film, the protagonist of this monochrome project resembles Charlie Simms from Scent of a Woman, whose psychological profile succeeds, through his righteous spirit that activates the beginning of his maturity, in catalysing a touching and complex story without approaching a terrifying, ostentatious or purely commercial action.
On an ordinary day, by accident, Sasha Stork’s roommates find out he turns eighteen. Even though Sasha doesn’t seem to pay much attention to this day, his colleagues insist on celebrating the anniversary together with some beers. Unfortunately, the very strict rules of the institution in which they learn and live are against such activities, and when some boys are threatened with expulsion because of alcohol, Sasha is confronted with a delicate situation: to be quiet or to defend his colleagues, while risking compromising the career he dreams of.
Far from being a short film exploring a pathological or an extremely violent case in order to get the spectators out of their comfort zone, Sergey Tselikov’s project is highlighted by a harmonious balance between visual and epic that doesn’t adopt an artificial or strident story about the social chemistry of a cadet’s life. Despite the prerequisites that seem to trigger a sensitive conflict about a trauma caused by the impossibility of adapting to a masculine and aggressive social environment, this short film is actually a human cinematic experience that renders a recognizable situation, managing to provide a sensible and nostalgic panorama about the beauty of devotion and friendship overcoming any obstacle. Designed on the visual principles of a monochrome formula supported by an orchestral, fluid and lyrical musical support that enhances the sincerity level of the narrator’s confession, ‘Going AWOL’ is an aesthetic eulogy to gentle memories that define our character and destiny, being also an intelligent cinematic exercise about the magic of the seventh art that doesn’t require bombastic subjects or conflicts to create a profound and refreshing experience.
For its sincerity and evocative force by which it renders the nostalgic atmosphere of memories, for the visual and acoustic harmony, through which it depicts an endearing catalytic event from the existence of an extremely human protagonist, ‘Going AWOL’ was awarded with the Film of the Month distinction in the March 2018 edition of TMFF.