Grandparents Svetlana and Victor live in abject poverty with their son Sergei and their grandchildren, in a cramped house in a half-deserted Russian village. They’re a contemporary version of Van Gogh’s The Potato Eaters—cabbage and potatoes are their staple diet. Svetlana constantly worries about repaying her debts. She’s the head of this stressed household, in which every ruble has to be counted carefully. Her husband hangs around drunk all day, while the children’s mother is completely absent.
The camera follows family life in every detail. Sergei, who Svetlana says was “born different,” is the most cheerful adult in the household. Scenes of him playing with the children or listening to the radio brighten up this family portrait. The two toddlers splash in puddles, pick plums and dance to music. Nevertheless, there’s the depressing sense that the newborn baby faces the same hopeless future as his grandparents. Sergei puts another old record on, but it gets stuck, just like their lives.