The 3 Rooms of Melancholia

This award-winning, stunningly beautiful documentary reveals how the Chechen War has psychologically affected children in Russia and in Chechnya. Divided into three episodes or 'rooms,' the film is characterized by an elegantly paced, observational style, which uses little dialog, minimal voice-over commentary and a spare but evocative musical score.

Room No. 1, "Longing," set in a military academy in Kronstadt, near St. Petersburg, portrays the highly regimented lives of the young cadets, most of them from broken or dysfunctional families, who are being trained for future roles in the Russian army. While showing their military drills, classroom sessions, church ceremonies, and recess period, the film briefly profiles several of the boys, whose stories reflect the political turmoil of contemporary Russia.

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Room No. 2, "Breathing," filmed in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, the former Soviet republic fighting for its independence, shows the widespread destruction wrought by the Russian shelling and bombardment, a city where families struggle to survive in barely habitable buildings, packs of stray dogs roam the streets, Russian military vehicles clog the roads, soldiers monitor roadblocks, and a courageous woman attempts to rescue orphaned or semi-orphaned children from the violence.

Room No. 3, "Remembering," filmed in the neighboring Islamic republic of Ingushetia, focuses on children in refugee camps and in a makeshift orphanage, including a young boy found living in a cardboard box, a 19-year-old girl traumatized by her rape at the age of 12 by Russian soldiers, and a roomful of children transfixed by televised images of the deadly aftermath of the crisis in which a Moscow theater audience was held hostage by Chechen terrorists.

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THE 3 ROOMS OF MELANCHOLIA, which poetically blends sustained close-ups of children's faces with gray, fog-shrouded landscapes, illuminates the emotional devastation wrought on youngsters who have little or no understanding of the historical and political reasons for the bitter conflict. In an even more troubling sense, the film also makes clear how the seeds of hatred are being instilled in young minds that will likely fuel the conflict into the next generation.

"Magnificent… Evidence that when a director-cinematographer with a poet's vision photographs the material world, ordinary human faces and landscapes can leave impressions that transcend any words that might describe them. A requiem for the living as well as for the dead." —Stephen Holden, The New York Times

"A Masterpiece! A profound meditation on the cost of war." —Pat Aufderheide, In These Times

"A beautiful, moving, mysterious film… while the Western media had trouble getting any independent footage from Chechnya, this Finnish art-film director took a film crew there and captured the breathtaking devastation. Put this on your must-see list!" —Andrew O'Hehir, Salon

"Quietly Devastating… Mesmerizing… Undeniably Powerful." —Time Out

"Rapturous... One of those rare films that deserves to be called 'poetic.'" —Variety

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A film by Pirjo Honkasalo

Select Accolades

  • North American Premiere, Sundance Film Festival 2005
  • Seeds of War Award, Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2005
  • Most Innovative Filmmaker Award, Chicago Documentary Festival 2005
  • Human Rights Award, Venice Film Festival 2004
  • Amnesty International DOEN Award, International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) 2004


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