Dmitry is a young immigrant father coming home with a crib for his infant daughter Dasha, lugging the furniture up the stairs to the cramped apartment he shares with his wife, Zhenya. All seems well until the crib breaks later that night, and the baby ends up with a bump on its head.
Zhenya wants to bring Dasha to the emergency room. But things are complicated because while Dasha was born in the U.S., Dmitry and Zhenya are immigrants whose visas have expired. They fear deportation and being separated as a family, but the safety of their baby daughter is also at stake.
Directed by Gleb Osatinski from a script co-written by Osatinski with Joshua Sonny Harris, this compelling short drama transposes an engaging chamber drama of family life upon the suspense of immigrants facing a dilemma made even more complicated and even dangerous by their uncertain legal status. There's an almost documentary-like closeness in the small gestures and moments of the family together, as handheld camerawork captures the tender touches, looks and seemingly throwaway dialogue of Dasha with her parents. The focus is on close-ups, and we don't see much of their home space. But from the shadows and framing, it feels cloistered and cramped.
When the family is content, this visual closeness feels almost cozy, and actors Yana Mulder and Dmitry Tagovitskiy as the parents have a palpable connection and understanding between them that feels equally lived-in and tender. The ensemble feels like a believable and relatable family: a set of new parents making a home together, even in difficult circumstances. But when Dasha's head gets bumped when the crib falls apart, this proximity between the camera and characters feels more like walls closing in on the family, mirroring how the family feels trapped by their circumstances, forcing them to make untenable choices at their most fearful and vulnerable.
Both parents are concerned for their daughter, but due to their status, Dmitry worries about the consequences of an ER visit that would rend the family apart. As Zhenya and Dmitry navigate the crisis, the beautifully subtle dialogue and performances come to the fore, as a formerly united couple faces a precipice and a decision. The future of the family is hazy, but viewers get a sense that the primary relationship between Dmitry and Zhenya has shifted. And whether or not the family's outer circumstances change, the inner emotional terrain between them has.
Thoughtful, somber and resonant, "Outsiders" is a title that immediately frames the main characters as existing in a twilight zone outside a larger system. The film's gift is its ability to use a pared-down set of storytelling elements -- a small but specific set of characters, disciplined visual approach and highly focused, thoughtful narrative -- to capture both the intimate emotions and larger sociopolitical context, giving it a power that goes beyond its seemingly modest scale. We share the intimacy of a young family's togetherness in a lovely quicksilver stream of moments, emotions and sensations, which feel almost sacred in their hush -- but we also experience how the larger currents of the world can easily threaten to carry them away, sweeping over them like debris in a wide, dangerous sea.