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The 3 Rooms of Melancholia

A film by Pirjo Honkasalo

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This award-winning, stunningly beautiful documentary reveals how the Chechen War has psychologically affected children in Russia and in Chechnya. Divided into three episodes or 'rooms,' the film is characterized by an elegantly paced, observational style, which uses little dialog, minimal voice-over commentary and a spare but evocative musical score.

Room No. 1, "Longing," set in a military academy in Kronstadt, near St. Petersburg, portrays the highly regimented lives of the young cadets, most of them from broken or dysfunctional families, who are being trained for future roles in the Russian army. While showing their military drills, classroom sessions, church ceremonies, and recess period, the film briefly profiles several of the boys, whose stories reflect the political turmoil of contemporary Russia.

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Room No. 2, "Breathing," filmed in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, the former Soviet republic fighting for its independence, shows the widespread destruction wrought by the Russian shelling and bombardment, a city where families struggle to survive in barely habitable buildings, packs of stray dogs roam the streets, Russian military vehicles clog the roads, soldiers monitor roadblocks, and a courageous woman attempts to rescue orphaned or semi-orphaned children from the violence.

Room No. 3, "Remembering," filmed in the neighboring Islamic republic of Ingushetia, focuses on children in refugee camps and in a makeshift orphanage, including a young boy found living in a cardboard box, a 19-year-old girl traumatized by her rape at the age of 12 by Russian soldiers, and a roomful of children transfixed by televised images of the deadly aftermath of the crisis in which a Moscow theater audience was held hostage by Chechen terrorists.

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THE 3 ROOMS OF MELANCHOLIA, which poetically blends sustained close-ups of children's faces with gray, fog-shrouded landscapes, illuminates the emotional devastation wrought on youngsters who have little or no understanding of the historical and political reasons for the bitter conflict. In an even more troubling sense, the film also makes clear how the seeds of hatred are being instilled in young minds that will likely fuel the conflict into the next generation.

"Cinematically beautiful… stands out for its artistic quality as well as its measured, indirect, profoundly moving, and deeply engaging approach to the material… It will have maximum impact for those who know (or will soon learn) something about human rights abuses and the impact of war on civilians, making it a good choice for undergraduates."—Steve Carlton-Ford, Armed Forces & Society

" Editor's Choice! * * * * [4 out of 4 stars]! Extraordinary!"—Video Librarian

"Magnificent! Evidence that when a director-cinematographer with a poet's vision photographs the material world, ordinary human faces and landscapes can leave impressions that transcend any words that might describe them. A requiem for the living as well as for the dead."—Stephen Holden, The New York Times

"Achingly Beautiful!"—New York Post

" * * * * [4 out of 4 Stars!]"—Jan Stuart, Newsday

""Quietly Devastating! Mesmerizing! Undeniably Powerful!"—Time Out

"A beautiful, moving, mysterious film. A prodigious, almost spiritual experience, a luminous, challenging art movie out of the Tarkovsky school that happens to be about a real war and its effects on real children. It was also a daring cinematic enterprise; while the Western media had trouble getting any independent footage from Chechnya, this Finnish art-film director took a film crew there and captured the breathtaking devastation. Put this on your must-see list!"—Andrew O'Hehir,

"A MASTERPIECE! A profound meditation on the cost of war."—Pat Aufderheide, In These Times

"All the force and the beauty of cinema is here… A magnificent and essential work."—Le Nouvel Observateur (France)

"The most revelatory and accomplished film in the [Sundance] festival! Creates such a quiet whirlwind of emotion it sucks the oxygen out of your heart."—John Anderson, Newsday

"Walloping… Harrowing… Rapturous... One of those rare films that deserves to be called 'poetic.'"—Variety

"Extraordinary! A visual poem, a moving painting and an orchestral requiem."—International Documentary

"Viscerally poetic, the film is stunning in its invention, its beauty, and its muffled sadness… A unique work of art."—Premiere (France)

North American Premiere, 2005 Sundance Film Festival
Seeds of War Award, 2005 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival
Most Innovative Filmmaker Award, 2005 Chicago Documentary Festival
Grand Prize, 2005 Zagreb Intl Documentary Festival
World Catholic Association Award, 2005 Mar del Plata Film Festival (Argentina)
FIPRESCI Award, 2005 Thessaloniki Documentary Festival
Special Mention for Best International Film, 2005 DocAviv Intl Documentary Festival
Human Rights Award, 2004 Venice Film Festival
Lina Mangiacapre Award, 2004 Venice Film Festival
Amnesty International DOEN Award, 2004 Amsterdam Intl Documentary Festival
First Prize, 2004 cph:dox Festival (Denmark)

104 minutes / Color
English subtitles
Release: 2005
Copyright: 2004

For individual consumers (home video)

This title is available online from:

For colleges, universities, government agencies, hospitals and corporations

This DVD is sold with a license for institutional use and Public Performance rights.

Subject areas:
Adolescence, Asia, Black & White, Chechnya, Cinema Studies, Conflict Resolution, Eastern Europe, Human Rights, Islam, On 35mm, Political Science, Psychology, Russia, Youth Issues

Related Links:
View a PDF of the Film's Press Kit
Read a Review from
Production History
Backgound Info on the 3 Rooms
Director's Statement and Biography
Also available for rental on 35mm, please inquire.

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