Unclenching the Fists

Contemporary World Cinema

A jury headed by Fish Tank director Andrea Arnold awarded Kira Kovalenko’s film the top prize in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes earlier this year, and the two directors share a lot in common.

The setting is a dusty, battle-scarred corner of North Ossetia in the Russian Federation, but the focus is squarely on teenager Ada (Milana Aguzarova), who tends to her aging, domineering father and her brother in a cramped apartment, and also minds a small corner shop while fending off the overly zealous attentions of a would-be Lothario.

When we first see her, Ada is anxiously waiting for someone at a bus stop, but it’s a while before we discover who she’s expecting, or the reasons for her concern. Kovalenko gradually reveals the complicated tendrils binding this young woman to her family, and we can only intuit other taboo elements. But for all its realism and claustrophobia, the movie climaxes in a paroxysmal night of raw desperation, vulnerability, and hope.

Un Certain Regard Prize, Cannes 2021

Director Icon Director
Kira Kovalenko

Milana Aguzarova, Alik Karaev, Soslan Khugaev, Khetag Bibilov, Arsen Khetagurov, Milana Pagieva
Executive Producer Natalia Gorina
Producer Alexander Rodnyansky, Sergey Melkumov
Screenwriter Kira Kovalenko, Anton Yarush
Cinematographer Pavel Fomintsev
Production Design Sergey Zaikov
Production Company Non-Stop Production, AR Content
Contact Mubi
Russia 2021 97 min. In Ossetian Trailer


Please note this film can only be viewed in British Columbia when streaming on VIFF Connect.

  Need an easily accessible seat for yourself and/or a companion? Please contact our box office directly on 604 683 3456 to book.

Kovalenko-Kira headshot


Kira Kovalenko was born in Nalchik, Russia. She graduated from Alexander Sokurov’s directing workshop at Kabardino-Balkarian State University in 2015. She made her directorial debut in 2016 with Sofichka, which premiered at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. Unclenching the Fists is her second feature film.

Photo: © Ksenia Sereda

Sofichka (2016)