Six-year-old Vanya Solntsev lives in a desolate and rundown orphanage run by an alcoholic headmaster. When a wealthy Italian couple wanting to adopt selects him, the other children, especially his good friend Anton, envy his good fortune and name him The Italian. But when a grief-stricken mother of another boy commits suicide after returning to reclaim her son and discovering he is no longer there, Vanya fears the same fate looms for him. With the aid of some of the older boys, he retrieves his file from the office safe and learns the address of the children's home where he previously lived. Certain the records there will identify his mother, he sets off on his quest.
Pursuing him by car as he travels by train are the corrupt Madam, who brokered his adoption, and her driver Grisha. Upon arriving in the town where the home is located, Vanya is attacked and beaten, but he breaks free and finds a bus that will take him to his destination. There he is confronted by Grisha, but he manages to elude him and make contact with the head of the home, who gives him his mother's address. Once again Grisha catches up with him, but when he realizes how determined Vanya is to find his mother, he lets him go. The boy is reunited with his mother. Through a letter Vanya wrote to Anton, who was adopted by the Italian couple instead, we learn Vanya is happy to be living with his mother again.Kolya Spiridonov as Vanya Solntsev
Mariya Kuznetsova as Madam
Nikolai Reutov as Grisha
Yuri Itskov as Headmaster
Dima Zemlyanko as Anton
Residents of the Lesogorsky Children's Home in Leningrad were cast as orphans in the film.
The film premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival and was shown at the Taipei Film Festival and the Buster Children's Film Festival in Denmark before going into theatrical release in Russia. It was shown at the Telluride Film Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival, the Morelia Film Festival in Mexico and the Paris Mon Premier Festival joden before going into limited release in the United States.
Manohla Dargis of The New York Times said, "The film’s director, Mr. Kravchuk, throws a beautiful, somewhat gauzy light over this world that gently softens its harder angles. There is something slightly magical about the lighting, almost as if this were a fantasy land from which Vanya might actually make an escape. This sense of unreality, of magical thinking and wishing, carries the story and Vanya through a remarkable journey . . . like something out of a film by Roberto Rossellini, which is very high praise indeed."
Ruthe Stein of the San Francisco Chronicle called the film "a deeply moving experience, alternately funny and sad" and added, "Based on a real incident, it has the ring of truth. Every detail feels right, from the chill of a Russian winter to the coldness displayed by adults profiting from a trade in orphans."
Leslie Felperin of Variety observed, "Briskly helmed by feature debutant Andrei Kravchuk, [the picture] depicts the hard-knock life in a remote Russian children's home with stark realism, evolving smoothly into a taut adventure tale as [the protagonist] hits the road in search of his mom. Possibly a bit too hard-hitting for more protected Western kids, [the picture] might appeal to subtitle-friendly tweens and teens in upmarket territories."
The film won the Grand Prix of the Deutsches Kinderhilfswerk from the International Jury at the 2005 Berlin International Film Festival, and a Special Mention from their Children's Jury.. It also won Golden Poznan Goats award for best feature movie at 23rd Ale Kino! Festival. Andrei Kravchuk won the CIFEJ Prize, awarded to the director of films especially designed for children or suitable for them, at the 2005 Carrousel International du Film in Montreal; the Cinekid Film Award at the 2005 Cinekid in Amsterdam; and the Grand Prix at the 2005 Honfleur Festival of Russian Cinema in France.
The film was Russia's submission for consideration in the category Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 78th Annual Academy Awards.