Film Review: The Wanderings of Ivan (La balade d’Ivan) ★★★★

Claude Chamis writes and directs The Wanderings of Ivan (La balade d’Ivan), a quiet reflective piece that naturalistically observes the journey of a Russian immigrant in France. Poetic at points, Chamis’ directorial debut is impressive in finding beauty in the rural scenery and Aram Arakelyan’s natural, engaging performance.

Ivan (Aram Arakelyan) has left his native Russia and is now living homeless in the urban streets of Paris. He soon escapes the dangers of the city for a new rural home in the woods of Vincennes, however, this peaceful sanctuary is soon interrupted by threats from the city.

Chamis takes a natural, observational approach to his story of Ivan with the film’s opening act seeing him navigate the busy urban streets of Paris. Experiencing kindness from strangers in some regards, Ivan is also subject to equal measures of unpleasantness (a scene where he’s ejected from a café captures this). Ivan quietly observes the busy metropolitan lives of the Parisian people as he meanders through the city asking for loose change and planning how he will get his next meal. Yet, this busy urban landscape is soon juxtaposed as Ivan saunters into the city’s woodlands. Finding a solace in his surroundings, Ivan witnesses nature living calmly – depicted in a peaceful, relaxed fashion by Chamis with lots of natural sound design capturing the appeal of nature as opposed to the busyness of the city.

Ivan’s behaviour takes a shift in these surroundings, embracing the atavistic tendencies which this awakens in him. Climbing trees in his boxers and coating himself in mud draws him closer into the natural landscape, yet a darker change unfolds as Ivan veers into slightly more unsavoury behaviour showcased in the attack of a runner and being sought after by older men in what appears to be a cruising hotspot. Both within the woods and city, Ivan struggles to connect to those around him, yet the film does showcase an inherent humanity in the character, as seen in a touching sequence where he buries a dead bird in a heartfelt, poetic fashion.

Interlaced with narrated extracts of the work of Maurice Blanchot, Ivan’s wanderings and interactions with fellow lost souls further help the film stand as quite a poetic piece. Conflicted by his need for money to survive and also his fears of being exploited, Ivan is a fascinating character – one that finds his strength and solace from nature, albeit a solace that is continually interrupted and under threat. Aram Arakelyan brings a striking natural beauty to the role whilst also capturing Ivan’s struggle to find a place in life – wandering through contemporary society.

Relationships with adults including a mysterious older woman and a cruising married man, only highlight Ivan’s fears of being seen as a commodity – particularly when these connections are cheapened as cash transactions. The latter of these scenes the film take a dark narrative turn in its final act.

The Wanderings of Ivan shines through Chamis’ poetic direction, striking natural cinematography from Thibaut De Chemellier, and a beautiful lead performance from Aram Arakelyan.

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