Brother in Every Inch definitely offers the world something it’s never seen before — the training of Russian air force pilots on an actual Russian air base — but guess what: It looks exactly flight training in any other country. All the same, this second feature from director Alexander Zolotukhin (after his debut three years ago with A Russian Youth) does take you somewhere new as it examines the progress of twin brothers as they undergo the rigors of learning to fly jet fighters, even if it’s presented in a semi-arty way that is both aesthetically pleasing and dramatically skimpy. This visually entrancing short feature (just 80 minutes long) premiered in the Encounters section of the Berlin Film Festival.
The brothers, Andrey and Mitya, played by actual identical twins Sergey and Nikolay Zhuravlev, are quite good-looking, and all but inseparable, except when they are obliged to fly on their own to make the grade as pilots.
On their first solo flights, Andrey does well but Mitya botches his, following a pattern that appears to have been set years before — Andrey is capable and reliable, while Mitya is a screw-up or, from appearances, just a dim bulb who’s seemingly always been dependent upon his brother to bail him out.
For the most part, Zolotukhin doesn’t build scenes in the conventional manner. Rather, he tends to cut right into them, displaying in quick, telling sequences what’s going on and what the consequences are. This approach creates dynamic energy within scenes; cinematographer Andrey Naydenov, who two years ago did a brilliant job shooting Andrey Konchalovsky’s Dear Comrades in black-and-white, is always fully complicit, pushing his camera right into the middle of things to capture the dynamic of dozens of young pilots who are vying to win spots on the squad.
The planes the men fly are small fighter jets, and the filmmakers benefited from special compact camera equipment that made possible some very impressive airborne shots, including scenes that involve a collision with a flock of birds (the base is unaccountably located near a verdant, swampy area loaded with them) and flying through turbulent nasty weather with no visibility. The aerial footage is first-rate and the brief running time could have easily absorbed a few more minutes of skyborn spectacle.
Instead, the film serves up some not particularly enthralling interludes of Andrey and Mitya mucking about in a bog and goofing around in a hayloft. If they weren’t brothers, you might suspect something more was underlying their relationship, but the attachment is definitely something deeper and more unique, a blood kinship that uniquely binds them and that Mitya entirely needs to make his way in the world.
The looming conflict, then, hinges on what happens if the capable Andrey is accepted into the air force and Mitya is not, a rather likely outcome given the evidence presented. The payoff, tersely shown, is entirely to-the-point and strikingly presented.
This is quick, dynamic look at a very specific and unfamiliar aspect of Russian life, not exactly a full meal but one that does mark Zolotukhin as a talent to watch.