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Synopsis: A true story, set in the future. About seeds and genetic diversity, about growth and decay, about love and war, about hunger of all kinds. About what it means to be human, even when all your humanity is stripped away. (IMDB)
Starring: Alyssa Lozovskaya, Maksim Blinov, and Vladimir Koshevoy
Writer: Jessica Oreck
Director: Jessica Oreck
Running Time: 92mins
If you happen to like your films super depressing with little redeeming qualities then maybe One Man Dies a Million Times is for you. Part documentary, part legend and part oral history, the film takes the true story of one of the world’s most important seed banks and the botanists who worked there throughout the Siege of Leningrad during WWII and sets it in a near-future St. Petersburg. Being a WWII-adjacent story, things were understandably bleak for the nearby war-torn community and over time, they were only going to get worse.
A pair of principled botanists working for a seed bank known as the N.I. Valivov institute (where the film was partially shot) named Alyssa (Lozovskaya) and Maksim (Blinov). Despite the increasing food shortages happening around them, they believed that what they were doing was ensuring the survival of the future but they would have to weigh this against the mass starvation occurring around them. Meanwhile, they would not be immune to the hunger crisis as we would witness their own declines. They may or may not have had feelings for each other, however, the film was too depressing to notice and it pretty much maintains that same note for the most part (despite the somewhat happy ending).
Shot in black and white (also the third recent foreign language film to do so), it only adds to the bleakness of the story but it of course won’t be for everyone. Along with its slow pace and divisive subject matter, the film may be a steep hill to climb for some viewers, however, the chemistry between Lozovskaya and Blinov as Alyssa and Maksim at least kept things somewhat compelling to watch.
Overall, One Man Dies a Million Times is a depressing foreign language film that fails to bring much else to the table. It’s modern day telling of a Russian WWII era story is interesting thanks to narration derived from archival footage but the story remains one note while never truly getting off the ground.