The film follows your typical 16 year old, Mark (Alex Ozerov); a low level drug dealer who spends his days inhaling classical philosophy. He is ridiculed on a daily basis by his father (Genadijs Dolganovs) to get a real job, and is reminded by his mother (Deanna Dezmari) that he will never experience the hardships the previous generations did under communism in the USSR. Okay. Mark isn’t your average 16 year old.
Things get interesting when his uncle Fima (Igor Ovadis) marries Zina (Aya-Tatyana Stolnits), a voluptuous middle aged woman from Russia. Zina arrives at the airport with her 14 year-old daughter Natasha (Sasha K. Gordon). Given that it’s summer and Natasha doesn’t speak English, Mark is tasked with being her chaperon.
The two venture around Toronto via foot, bike, and boat. As the two spend more time together, they become romantically and sexually involved. Watching the trailer, it’s easy to assume Natasha is something very different than what it actually is.
Robert is a screenwriter and writer for Pensare Films Media. He loves cinema in all its glory. Follow Robert Misovic on Facebook for more Film Reviews and Film Festival-related goodies
Natasha is a Canadian film starring Sasha K. Gordon, Alex Ozerov and a bevy of fantastic actors, each of whom deliver a near pitch perfect performance. The theatrical release is set for April 28th, 2017 at New York’s Lincoln Plaza Cinema. The film is written and directed by David Bezmozgis, and inspired by a short story he wrote.
What drew you to the role of Natasha, given how bold and challenging the character was to portray?
For a year and half, they were trying to cast someone, but it was really hard to find someone young looking who also spoke Russian and was a strong enough actor to play this role. I got the script and loved it.
I loved how true she was to herself. She's completely un-apologizing. I really connected to the idea of a young girl who was 14 going on 30. I myself worked from a young age and often felt the same way.
Did you grow up knowing many (if any) girls like Natasha?
I volunteer at a non-profit which helps orphaned kids in Ukraine. There are a lot of socially dysfunctional kids in Ukraine, so I’ve sadly met a lot of Natasha’s; kids who did not have a childhood and had to grow up really fast. They were like street cats. They need love but they looked for it in all the wrong places.
Watching the film, I flipped between rooting for and rooting against Natasha a few times. When you watch the film, ignoring the fact that you played her, do you root for her? Do you empathize with the idea that some people are merely forced to grow up too soon and are victims of their circumstances? Or is Natasha just not a very good person?
You root for her. Sometimes you’re on her mother’s side as well. It’s unresolved. I would root for her because she’s not malicious. She has her attachments and her issues. She has reasons to hate her mother the way she does. She has thick skin. She’s not passive. She’s a do-er. In a sense, she’s a very active protagonist.
At the surface, it seems to be a Russian language film dealing with subjects like; incestuous relations between cousins, an age-inappropriate sexual relationship between a 16 year old boy and a 14 year old girl, and the Russian-Jewish immigrant experience.
I would argue that these elements of the story are mere details in comparison to what the film is actually about; truth, life and the hopelessness of young love. As a writing professor once told me, truth resonates universally. Natasha remains true; true to itself, and to us.
If you enjoyed films like Xavier Dolan’s coming-of-age feature J’ai tue Ma Mere, or Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Color, you’ll probably enjoy Natasha. It’s a dark drama-thriller about a girl who is 14 going on 35, and a 16 year old boy who finds himself totally unable to keep up with her.
Bozmozgis’s characters are layered and deep, the acting performances are nearly flawless, and the writing is a positive surprise. One performance that stood out for us was Sasha K. Gordon’s portrayal of Natasha, the troubled and sexually promiscuous 14-year old. Pensare Films caught up with Sasha in New York to talk to her about Natasha, her upcoming off-Broadway play Terezin, and her career as an actress.
Is there something more gratifying about playing characters who aren't so black and white? Obviously David has done a wonderful job of bringing to life a Natasha that is very human and flawed. How do you find the balance when you're not playing a prototypical good or bad character, but rather a very complex grey one?
More fun. You get so many sides to someone. She’s got all these corners. You can dive into it and explore the character. She has so many conflicts. It really helps to play a character who isn’t black and white because you have more to work with.
The cast of Natasha was simply marvellous. In particular, you and your co-star Alex Ozerov had great chemistry. Was it an instant click, did you know each other from before, or is this a case of hammering it out through months of rehearsals?
It was an instant Click. David introduced us, and it was great. He’s from the same country. He’s a rich, deep, and beautiful person. Our souls gravitated towards each other. We went around the city and got to know each other. We had a tight bond which really strengthened the film.
You're doing a play off-Broadway (Terezin) which looks very interesting. Can you tell us more about this play, the character you're playing, and how different stage acting is from acting in a film? Do you have a preference for one or the other?
Terezin is a Holocaust story about 2 girls Alexi (Natasha Petrovic) and my character Violet who is an orphan. She plays many different roles to different people and serves as a bright light through the dark times. It's a tremendous honor to be able to pay tribute to the victims and survivors of this dark period in history.
Stage is an actors medium. There’s a certain magic to stage performances. With film, you just do your part and let it go. And editors etc can take over. But the plus is it lasts forever. The real journey (for the performer) comes on stage.
You can really feel it from the audience. You’re present in the moment and there’s something truly incredible about it. It’s never repeated. Every performance is different. It’s personal. Film is the same because you record it. Stage is a fleeting medium. It can merely be instilled in someone’s memory.
Robert Misovic | April 19, 2017
Sasha K. Gordon | Q&A
Readers in New York can Catch Sasha K. Gordon in Natasha on April 28, 2017. You can purchase tickets here.For those in Canada, you can catch Natasha on TMN on Demand.
Sasha K. Gordon Talks Natasha, Terezin, and Her Unique Journey from Odessa to The Big Apple
Aya-Tatyana Stolnits & Sasha K. Gordon in Natasha
Alex Ozerov and Sasha K Gordon ride bikes around Toronto.
Growing up, the stories I would hear about Francois Truffaut truly captivated me. It actually made me think I could direct films. Is there an actor in particular that you've looked up to? Either because you related to their story, or because you just loved their work?
I love Francois Truffaut as well. Great taste. I enjoy Jean Reno. Andrei Mironov, a Soviet actor– I was always fascinated with his film choices, captivating range and the energy that was flowing through him. He was great in comedy, which was a genre I watched a lot when I was young. However, I also appreciated him in serious roles.
I really admire Meryl Streep. Ben Kingsley for his range and basically being a new person in each performance. Kingsley's Elegy (2008) really resonated with me. Phillip Seymore Hoffman is another favorite of mine.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and education?
My dad used to borrow a dress (snowflake dress) from his colleague for me to be in kindergarden productions. I would wear it at home. THIS was my earliest memory related to acting
We had guests over and I would sometimes perform for them. For doing so, my mom gave me a chocolate bar. This stuck.
Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to act. I attended a private school and got to do some productions there but I always played small roles- my mom was a school teacher and my education was part of her payment so the bigger roles went to the other kids whose parents actually paid for them.
This kinda captures the temperature of the show business there. Unless one has connections or money it's extremely hard to break through. I remember getting the "look" when I said that I wanted to be an actress. People would just laugh in your face.
This seems to be the case for a lot of artists in Eastern Europe. You moved to North America when you were 16. Was it to pursue greater acting opportunities?
When I moved to the United States, I first pursued my plan B (getting a degree in Marketing and finance while I filled my electives with theatre and art classes).
My first formal acting class was during my freshman year and I loved it! After our end of the semester showcase my business professor said that I should think about it as a career. It was already my dream, but he didn't know this.
After graduating from Fordham, I landed a job at marketing implementation agency and upon getting a recommendation of an actress whom I interpreted for, I took a number of classes at HB studio- acting for the camera with Sam Groom, Acting Technique with Michael Beckett, and more.
Later my corporate focus shifted to finance but around 2012-2013. Unemployment was quite high and the economy was in a bad shape overall.
Around then, I started with a new teacher, Bruce Ornstein and I got extremely fortunate to get three offers and ended up taking a position at ABN AMRO- a Dutch bank in their middle office as a credit and collateral specialist.
Shortly after this, I landed the role of Natasha. That was the end of my corporate career.
David noted that immigrants, (especially second generation immigrants) regardless of where they came from would identify with the film. This film not only tackles the immigrant experience, but does so from the perspective of a strong female character. Does that make it more relevant, given the socio-political climate and glaring lack of strong female roles in Hollywood?
Cinema can do that. And that's the beauty of it. A strong female protagonist is a great flip, because most female characters are more passive. It is imparitive to understand as well, that despite the tough talk and thick skin, underneath she’s also scared. This makes the character more real. It’s important to tell stories like this, because it unmutes those people who live them.
On the surface it can be mistaken as a Russian film, or a Russian-Jewish film, but once you dig deeper, it’s a film about anyone. We’re all the same in our soul, so the film does hopefully portray that. It allows anyone to see themself in this film.
The acting was phenomenal across the board- pretty much every performance was nailed. David Bezmozgis, the writer and director of Natasha also wrote the short story upon which the film was based. Did that help him communicate with you and the other actors?
What happened here was what I preferred. I liked that David was able to provide all the elaboration. When reading the short story, I was able to get a lot about my character from it. And I was able to reflect on my own experiences to build her as I saw her.
He gave me a lot of information and it gave me the building blocks to mold the character myself. David left himself open to surprises on set and allowed us to try things, which is a mark of a GREAT director in my opinion.