In the time since Russia enacted it’s rather draconian ‘gay propaganda’ laws, much has been written about the chilling effect it’s had on LGBT people in the country and also how it has emboldened homophobes to feel they can act against gay people with impunity, which has led to vicious attacks, torture and beatings.
Stand takes us into this world and the lives of gay Russian couple Anton and Vlad, who live together and have a life where they know that as long as they keep their sexuality behind closed doors and amongst those they trust, they can live a fairly safe and happy life. However, while driving along they witness a vicious attack on a gay man. With Vlad fearful of what will happen if they intervene, they end up doing nothing.
After they discover that the man died, Anton begins to investigate the crime, becoming increasingly fixated with finding out who the thugs were who targeted the gay man. While Vlad supports Anton’s quest – at least to a point – he is fearful of the consequences. Anton is determined though, putting his own safety at risk – as well as putting the future of his relationship in danger – in order to find the criminals. His quest leads to a very perilous conclusion.
Stand is a well-made and fairly engrossing film, which takes us into the situation in Russia not just by saying, ‘Oh isn’t this awful’, but by getting us to question what we would do if we were gay and living in that country. Anton and Vlad are both understandable characters – one wanting to do something about the attacks on the LGBT community, while the other sees the danger both to their lives and to the comfortable existence they’ve built together.
While it’s nice to think we’d be bold like Anton and try to make a difference, the film doesn’t shy away from the negatives of that, both the physical dangers and the psychological ones. Stand cleverly keeps Anton right on the edge between bravery and foolhardiness, ensuring the audience constantly questions what he’s doing and whether we would do the same.
Although set in Russia, it deals with universal issues it’s easy to empathise – although it certainly makes the case that being LGBT in Russia is not an easy thing. Stand deals with quite a lot of big ideas and it does it well, helped enormously by Russian-born lead actors Renat Shuteev and Andrey Kurganov who, in their first major film roles, make a convincing and sympathetic couple. Indeed, one of the film’s greatest strength is investing in their relationship and how their tender, relaxed domesticity behind closed doors contrasts with the difficulties and dangers outside their apartment. It ensures both them and their relationship feels real and that they are not just ciphers the filmmakers are using to make a point.
Overall Verdict: An engrossing look inside a deep and dangerous moral dilemma that works both as an exploration of the specific problems in Russia and of issues that touch all our lives.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac