Posts Tagged ‘Ukrainian film’

Atlantis (2019) **** Venice Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Valentyn Vasyanovych; Cast: Andriy Rymaruk, Liudmyla Bileka. Sergiy Katya; USA/Ukraine 2019, 104 min.

This third feature by Ukranian director/writer DoP Valentyn Vasyanovych (Kredens) is a bleak dystopian fable set in contemporary Eastern Ukraine, where anti-hero Sergiy battles not only his PTSD, but also a poisoned environment – literally and figuratively.

Atlantis is a difficult film to watch, and remains seared to the memory as it plays out mostly without dialogue, the roaming camera telling us all we need to know. Vasyanovych avoids sentimentality, his courageous protagonists having to face up to a hellish existence which is not of their own making.

This apocalyptic thriller opens with five male holograms dancing around menacingly. Cut to a reality, and a war-ravaged landscape where the rivers have been poisoned by the Russians. Sergiy (Rymaruk) and his friend Ivan (Katya) work in a smelting furnace which is soon to close. Ivan is so depressed with the futility of his existence he jumps into the burning steel lava. Sergiy, feeling guilty about his friend’s death later burns himself with a hot iron in his decrepit studio room. Atlantis shows how the deep bonds of love and homeland can help us to endure the most appalling situations, no matter how difficult the circumstances.

After the factory is shut, Sergiy takes as job as a driver for a mobile water tank, providing fresh supplies for soldiers and state employees. He is warned it will take several decades to clear the unexploded mines but things look up when he meets para-medic Katya (Bileka) who is helping to identify the many corpses still littering the countryside. Her car has broken down, and Sergiy tows her vehicle to the nearest town where we witness an exhumation performed by two pathologists. The whole scene is one of the most difficult of the entire feature, the medics going painstakingly about their business painstakingly detailing the decaying bodies. Surprisingly (or not), Sergiy is not particularly hungry afterwards, buy while Katya tucks into her food, he offers to help her on his weeks off. This work is not for the faint-hearted and she has to help him to get over the shock of the gruesome finds. Another stroke of luck comes when he saves the life of a woman who tuns out to be an ecologist for a worldwide organisation, and offers him a job abroad, “to start a new life”. But however gruelling, he prefers working with Katya, and when their vehicle breaks down, the camera zooms in from the outside through the torrents of rain, showing two deeply affected people who slowly fall for each other, their feelings an antidote to the horror of war. Vasyanovich leaves us to draw our own conclusions about this deeply affecting but enigmatic feature: “This is like a reservation for people like us, it would be hard to live anywhere else.” AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 28 – 7 August 2019


Donbass (2018) ****

Writer/Dir: Sergey Loznitsa | Cast: Valeriu Andriuta, Boris Kamorzin, Sergey Kolesov | Drama | Ukraine/Ger/France/Neth/Romania/Russia | 110

Donbass today is a conflation of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine, and an important mining region since the late 19th century, when it became heavily industrialised. Sergey Loznitsa’s drama set in the region opened this year’s Un Certain Regard strand at Cannes.

In March 2014, following the 2014 Ukrainian revolution and Russian military intervention, large swaths of the Donbass seethed with unrest that eventually erupted in a war between pro-Russian separatists affiliated with the self-proclaimed unrecognized Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, and the post-revolutionary Ukrainian government. Until the ongoing war, Donbass – which borders Russia – was the most densely populated of all the regions of Ukraine, apart from the capital city of Kiev. Before the war, the city of Donetsk (then the fifth largest city in Ukraine) had been considered the unofficial capital of the Donbass.

And it is during this troubled period of history that the Ukrainian born filmmaker sets his follow-up to last year’s Cannes title A Gentle Creature (he has made a film every year since his 2012 In The Fog: The Letter; Maidan; The Event and Austerlitz. Elliptical and visually striking, DONBASS does lack a certain warmth, focusing on its formal rigour and an evocative sense of emptiness, it is a piece that will certainly appeal to the diehard arthouse crowd.

The narrative follows but does not focus on any particular character, as a series of interconnecting vignettes gradually unfold that will be more engaging for audiences intimately familiar with the situation, rather than to outsiders looking in. There is a haunting scene where a prisoner (Valery Antoniuk) gets lynched by a crowd of locals who believe him to be a member of a Ukrainian execution squad. But nobody seems safe in this combattive, hostile and unpredicatble environment fraught with sudden explosions as gunfire rumbles continually in the background. The director conveys a palpable sense of generalised chaos and desperation.

Loznitsa collaborates again with DoP Oleg Mutu (who also lensed A Gentle Creature). This is a muscular and intelligent piece of filmmaking, but one that will have the most appeal to keen historians and ardant fans of this accomplished and fascinating director.MT




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