Travelling with Pets (Puteshestvie s Domashnimi Zhivotnymi)
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Natalija (Kseniya Kutepova) has never really been on her own. She grew up in an orphanage, where she lived until she was 16—when she was sold as a slave to the demanding older man who eventually took her as his wife. From then on, she lived a quiet and unhappy life in a tiny shack by the railroad tracks, where she and her husband made a living selling goods to passing trains.

When her husband dies unexpectedly, Natalija suddenly finds herself alone for the first time in her life. And with the help of Sergei (Dmitri Dyuzhev), a man who just happens to be passing by in his truck as she’s trying to transport her husband’s body, she begins to figure out how to take care of herself—and how to be free.

Travelling with Pets (or Puteshestvie s Domashnimi Zhivotnymi in its native Russian) tells a simple story about a quiet and almost childlike woman who’s lived like a slave for most of her life. There isn’t much action or dialogue—and the film moves at an unhurried pace. As a result, it feels longer than its 97-minute runtime, so many viewers (especially those who aren’t used to Eastern European dramas) may find that it’s much too slow for their tastes. In fact, Travelling with Pets was the first movie I saw at a recent film festival, so I can tell you from experience that it’s not the best movie to watch after spending the morning dealing with travel arrangements and parking garages.

But if you can allow yourself to take a deep breath, sit back, and enjoy it, Travelling with Pets is a beautiful movie. The settings are often rather gray and drab, but director Vera Storozheva has an artistic eye. She shows that artistic side by adding splashes of color in all the right places—whether it’s in the colorful dresses that Natalija chooses over her old, drab wardrobe or the beautiful red hair that she finally uncovers after her husband’s death.

Travelling with Pets is practically a one-woman show—and although Kutepova says very little, she’s wonderful in the role. Like the rest of the movie, she’s rather plain and simple yet somehow strikingly beautiful at the same time. And though she remains rather sedate throughout the movie, you can still feel her perplexity—and you can see her gradual transformation.

Though its relaxed pace is definitely not for everyone, this subtle Russian drama is serenely beautiful. It’s rather odd—and even slightly amusing—at times, but it’s striking nonetheless.

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