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Leaving Lenin Review

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While on a school trip to Russia a group of welsh teenagers bond as they share the road trip, losing their teachers along the way.

★★★★★

After the Welsh-language film Hedd Wynn scooped a Best Foreign Language Film nomination at this year's Oscars, this subtitled laid-back comedy-drama is another reassuring sign of filmmaking life in the Valleys. A group of sixth-form pupils on an art school trip to Russia are accidentally separated from their three teachers who end up in a railway siding while their students make it to St. Petersburg by themselves. Left to their own devices the teenagers learn about life, love and art in a series of sunny locations which nicely convey a mood of adolescent abandon.

Talented rebel Spike (Trevor) meets freewheeling artist Sasha (Ivan Schvedov) and discovers a sexual as well as an artistic identity, while school flirt Sharon (Shelley Rees) learns that her yobbish boyfriend Charlie (Richard Harrington) has only one thing on his mind — and it's not her feelings.

If all the talk about being true to yourself for the sake of your art does tend to get just a little po-faced at times, it's at least tempered by some wryly comic observations about teenagers and sex. That said, the best bits here are those that focus on the the hitchhiking teachers: Eilenne (Morgan), the liberal art mistress; Mostyn (Wyn Bowen), the pompous husband who was once a socialist idealist and is now a communist bore; and deputy head Mervyn (Ifan Huw Dafydd), better known to his colleagues as Merv the Perv. Their poignantly funny performances give a fresh twist to the familiar story of people re-evaluating their lives in a crisis, while the comparison between their new awareness and the "New Russia" is never overdone.

Welsh cinema hasn't always been a hotbed of creativity, but this engaging teen road trip of a movie shows that talent does exist, it's just the lack of funding. Leaving Lenin is a pleasingly entertaining film with funny performances from children and teachers alike, although it is the latter who steal the film with their attempts at hitch hiking.

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