Ukrainian cinema as a sensation and fact

There is one commonplace thing that like the last straw comes to mind in the situation of the long-lasting crisis: hope for the changeover from quantity to quality.

This directly applies to our domestic cinema. First, it didn’t exist as such. Then it began to be funded so with quantity everything got better – 25-30 feature films per year. But that’s was all. There was some luck, but in general, this constant flow gave almost nothing either to the audience or for the cinephile mind.

Odesa Film Festival in this regard is the right moment for control check: it is held in the mid-summer, after the major European cinema forums and the closing of the autumn-spring season. A separate National Competition allows to rather accurately assess the state of our cinema.

This year, this section has screened 5 features and 10 short films.

Short films are usually an application for the future: they show not so much the level of giftedness as the potential of the authors. In this regard, the majority of directors of this section do have this potential. The most prominent is Ivan Orlenko who set an incredible task – to screen unfinished short story by Franz Kafka “In Our Synagogue”. According to the story, the boy tries to figure out what the mysterious creature lives in the synagogue, regularly frightening women. In 19 black and white minutes, the director managed to accommodate the Kafkaesque sense of absurdity, the Holocaust catastrophe, and the tragedy of human life as such. The result was a stingy, precise and profound story – despite the fact that the director lacks film directing education.

But, of course, all eyes were drawn to the feature films. And, without exaggeration, we can say that this year’s National Competition was the strongest over the entire existence of the OIFF.

Perhaps, the only failure was Eastman (director – Andriy Ivaniuk). The idea is good: to show the usual day of ordinary soldiers, in the chaos of the frontline zone they try to find their platoon sergeant to get materials to reinforce their position – otherwise, everyone dies during the first shelling. Actually, the “eastman” – a sturdy man nicknamed Boroda is performed by the theatre veteran Bohdan Beniuk, Boroda’s partner – Halychyna intellectual “Director” – Anatoliy Maksymiuk.

In fact, Ivaniuk whose alter-ego is “Director”, has shot his own memories about the frontline but not too convincing. The actors always snap at the pretentiously theatrical scream, a cheesy pathos. This pseudo-theatre on the verge of falsehood is excessive both in the dialogues and situations; Beniuk’s dedicated work, unfortunately, doesn’t recoup this. This is not to mention the directorial and scenic inconsistencies. Unfortunately, Eastman remained an example of a bad implementation of a good idea.

Genre is basically one of the weakest parts of our cinema. Therefore, regarding the premiere of another military drama – U311 “Cherkasy” (Timur Yashchenko, Ukraine-Poland) I personally had serious concerns, especially since there were rumours about some unsuccessful versions of directorial editing and other difficulties.

Shot from the film U311 “Cherkasy”

As it’s known, minesweeper “Cherkasy” was the last ship that Russian invaders captured in Crimea in the spring of 2014. The protagonists are fictional but in a way very typical. Myshko and Lev are the boys from the Ukrainian village. Myshko has drinking issues, Lev is a loner. They go to serve on the fleet to escape the rural hopelessness. They get to the “Cherkasy” and become the participants of true historical events.

The first thing I want to single out – the thing that lacks in Eastman – the actors’ work. Dozens of actors hold precise cinematographic types and play not theatrically, but cinematographically – without screaming and waving with their hands. Those who dealt with project casting have to be awarded a separate prize. All dialogues, all situations are natural, they fully correspond to the logic of the characters.

For the director, it would be very easy to fall into the propaganda rage and gain quick success in that part of the audience that easily reacts to loud phrases but Yaschenko avoided the temptation, choosing the effaced and that’s why even more dramatic finale – the only possible for such a story.

I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that this is the first action film about Ukrainian soldiers.

Two documentary films were made by the widespread method “fly on the wall” – when the director just lives together with characters and gradually becomes absolutely unnoticed for them with his camera.

Shot from the film My Father Is Mother’s Brother

My Father Is Mother’s Brother is the first director’s work of the cameraman Vadym Ilkov. The main character is a bohemian singer and an artist Anatoliy Belov. His sister has a serious mental disorder so Anatoliy becomes the father of his five-year-old niece. Here, a fairly phantasmagoric storyline unfolds about how the bohemian provocateur tries to perform a completely unusual role for himself. There are actors – the dream of any documentalist – it’s enough to focus the camera on them and they will do the rest. Anatoliy is one of them. Ilkov’s film leaves a certain feeling of incompleteness, however, watching such an artistic protagonist, the director also creates a kind of “added value” – he encourages reflections on the gender roles, attitude towards people with disability and the conditionality of the family as such.

National Feature Competition opened with the film Projectionist (Ukraine-Poland). First, director Yuriy Shylov, one of the co-founders of the CUC group (Contemporary Ukrainian Cinema) made the documentary short film Projectionist about the projectionist Valentyn, who for 44 years worked at the Kyiv cinema, and his friend and colleague Volodya, who worked there just a little less. While Shylov searched for the money for a feature version, a fire occurred in the cinema, Valentyn lost his job and fell ill, and then the first panoramic cinema theatre in the USSR closed down altogether.

Shot from the film Projectionist

The first half of the film almost entirely unfolds in the cinema and at Valentyn’s home, where the projectionist takes care of his bed-ridden grandmother. Projection and adjacent production facilities are a clear illustration of the thesis about work as life: here they have their hair cut, dance, drink, celebrate the birthdays and New Years, half-naked girls run and swear words fly around. Valentyn who, for some reason, is called Vitya is a merrymaker and wit, he doesn’t lose heart even it the rigours of life.

Yuriy has also managed to properly process the material, diving the film by two parts – before and after dismissal – completely different in rhythm and mood. As a result, a soul-crushing portrait came out – a cinema and a projectionist, a doomed house and a lost person. In the end, when Volodya suddenly starts to dance under the swift kitsch melody, Shylov reaches nearly Muratova’s level of tragicomedy.

My Thoughts Are Silent by another participant of CUC – Antonio Lukich – closed the National Competition. A week ago, at the Karlovy Vary festival, the film was awarded Special Jury Prize in the section East of the West. In Odesa, Lukich’s film garnered FIPRESCI prize.

The film was made by the Toy Cinema Studio with the help of the State Film Agency. The shooting took place in Kyiv, in the Carpathians and in Transcarpathia.

My Thoughts Are Silent is about a 25-year-old sound engineer and composer Vadym (Andriy Lidahovsky), who, being rather asocial, without a certain job, tries to emigrate to Canada. To do this, at the request of a wealthy diaspora businessman, it is necessary to record the voices of the Transcarpathian animals, and, most importantly, the singing of a rare, almost mythological bird: the Mallard. However, the character’s mother suddenly meddles in the trip (a famous Ukrainian actress Irma Vitovska-Vantsa).

Shot from the film My Thoughts Are Silent

First things first: this is a comedy. Second and almost impossible – this is a funny comedy film that makes you die laughing. During the first 20 minutes, there is an incessant roar in the hall. The character who for the entire film never changes a serious and very focused expression of his face constantly provokes funny situations or sometimes he literally got caught up in them. His mother is obsessed with taking care of this misfortunate genius – on the verge of the Oedipus complex. However, she herself is no less funny in the attempts to arrange her and his happiness. In parallel, the storyline with the voices of animals and a fairytale Mallard revolves. Lukich builds the entire mythology around this bird, backing up it with falsified cinema chronicle. I don’t get all sorts of traditions, including religious ones: the director doesn’t deal with anti-Christian satire, but he doesn’t miss the opportunity to crack a few puns: from the Noah’s Ark computer game to the conversation at the dinner table, when and what to eat.

In the end, it seems that it’s not so important that Vadym records that bird as the fact that he realizes that the mallard, an ever-anxious bird, is his weak and selflessly loving mother.

So, human and animal, religion and comedy, mother and son: the picture turned out both funny and profound.

Worth any awards.

And, given the whole mentioned above, the conclusion is brief: Ukrainian cinema has made this. It grew up from its quantity to conscious and unambiguous quality. It finally gained its own unique face.

With what I congratulate all involved!

Dmytro Desyateryk, The Day – specially for opinionua.com

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