The release of the Wild fields has been prepared and conducted with a bang what we’d experienced only with animated feature films or Cyborgs. The head of the government was invited to the premiere show, virus advert reached the checks in the chain supermarkets “Silpo”. After all, Zhadan’s prose isn’t filmed every day, moreover, his best novel, a book of the decade by the BBC – “Voroshilovgrad”. But, obviously, the cult status of author’s primary source seemed not enough to the producers.
It’s clear: after all, genre cinema will far more likely evoke the interest of the mass audience and bring corresponding proceeds than the most exquisite art-house. At first, the authors advertised Wild fields as an “eastern” – that is the Eastern European analogue of western – and recently the finished product is called “adventure action”.
Here’s the delicate point. “Voroshylovgrad” is complicated and multi-layered literature. Collision with the raider attack on the petrol station which is defended by the protagonist – Herman – with his friends Kocha and Travmovanyi (Travma – in the film) (injured, injure – translator’s note) – is one of the many. Not less important motive is Zhadan’s work with language; the language itself is a separate character and also a metaphysical “shadow”, which is cast by all things, situations and characters in this book. To convey the metaphysics of the novel, this sung by the author “heavenly Voroshilovgrad” on the screen – is a close to impossible task.
So, Yaroslav Lodygin absolutely logically took as a basis the acuteness of the plot. The film begins with a scene where Kocha (Volodymur Yamnenko) calls Herman (Oleg Moskalenko) to tell that Herman’s older brother Yuriy went abroad and it’s unknown when he’ll be back so now the youngest is responsible for a household – an old petrol station somewhere in the back of beyond, among cornfields near Starobilsk. After arrived, Herman finds out that Kocha is being tortured by bandits. Fortunately, calm and confident giant Travma (Georgiy Povolotskyi) comes for a help in the red (!) Soviet “Volga”.
Already in the first episodes, it’s clear that “Wild fields” is a mixture of a crime drama and a Bildungsroman, which has long been worked out by the world cinema. The infantile character from the capital arrives in the town and grows up there in a quite traumatic way, defending not family or property but some values. Credo of “Wild fields” characters – “stand up for your own”. Even if it’s an old rusty petrol station.
And of course to turn a complicated and cult novel into the amusement genre was a risky decision because spectators deliberately or not will compare the book with the film – which isn’t good for the last. Lodygin received a serious help in the person of one of the best Ukrainian playwrights, screenwriter Natalka Vorozhbyt. She carried out incredible work. In the end, the plot of the film is unfolding quickly and naturally: the film is interesting to watch, there’s a necessary level of tension. The dialogues are letter-perfect, jokes are funny, and uncensored language, which may irritate our moralists, is appropriate there.
As for Lodygin’s directing as well as for Serhiy Mykhalchuk’s operating work, the visual solution of “Wild fields” looks like the typical post-Soviet criminal cinema of 2000th: with emphatic, as a magazine photo, close-ups, picturesque panoramic views, cleared up colours. You can argue about the relevance of aesthetics after the acquired freedom of camera movements in the last decades, but this style looks more or less justified within the frames of the given task.
Especially that it’s worth repeating that “Voroshylovgrad” isn’t about symbolism, or the catchy ghosts of the past or mighty archetypes which tune our existence with the conviction of pagan gods but about the Wild Field itself, about our ancient Wild West, our frontier where the free shooters, bright characters, powerful passions and eternal values still dominate.
Such a setting demands corresponding actors. I regret saying but the performer of the main role couldn’t tell his part of the story. The character of Moskalenko is merely developing, regardless of the circumstances, his reactions are passive, he follows the events but doesn’t determine them.
It would be a disastrous factor for the film if not for the full-fledged and powerful cast. Travma-Povolotsky, Kocha-Yamnenko, Pastor-Yuriy Gorbunov are incredibly colourful, intonationally acute, unique in their small gestures and witty words. Special credits go for the member of Dakh Daughters Ruslana Khazipova in the role of accountant Olga: it’s her debut on the screen and this debut is successful – the girl with character, when it’s necessary, she’s sharp and determined, when it’s necessary, she’s funny, and when it’s necessary, she’s sensitive.
It’s worth mentioning that actors and actresses work here cinematographically, do without pathetic and artificial theatricality which still remains a palpable disaster for the Ukrainian cinema.
So, what came out of this heterogeneous, uneven but predominantly gifted team? Bitter-sweet, funny and dramatical fairy-tail about how people were defending, and, not without losses, finally defended their own. Adventure action. Western. Existential drama. Such as Ukrainian history.
Dmytro Desyateryk, The Day – specially for opinionua.com