Three Iconic Ukrainian Short Films of the Odessa Film Festival 2017

in 8th Odessa International Film Festival

by Anton Filatov

At the eighth Odessa International Film Festival, 17 films were presented in the program of Ukrainian short films. According to the sad tradition of this competition program, most of these films were a complete disappointment. Nevertheless, among them there were real gems – and their premier became one of the most important events in Ukrainian cinema of this year.

One of the best Ukrainian documentary films of the OIFF-2017 was the short film by Svitlana Shymko The Fall of Lenin (Leninopad). The film is dedicated to one of the most large-scale phenomena in post-Soviet Ukraine in recent years: the destruction of monuments to Lenin. For the last three and a half years (since the time of Euromaidan) almost 1,500 such monuments have been felled.

This picture shows the logic and implications of this trend in very concentrated way. The destruction of monuments to Lenin is shown here with irony. The film begins with a chronicle of a spiritualistic session with Vladimir Lenin. In its course, the communist leader says that people are facing a difficult future and that it will not be possible to realize communism in an ideal way. Thus, the film reveals a mysterious image of the ghost of history, which does not give rest to the present day.

Images showing the destruction of monuments to Lenin have become widely popular in the press in recent years. However, in the film they appear throughout and fluently, without too much attention being drawn.

In the film, there is a very eloquent parallel between the fanaticism of the Orthodox church and the communist cult. The chronicles show how the Communists in the beginning of the twentieth century destroyed churches and melted the domes, crosses and bells to make statues of Lenin. These fragments rhyme with the current process, when Ukrainian nationalists destroy monuments to Lenin, again sending them for melting and recycling.

The most sensual and poetic premiere of the festival was the short film Lilac (Buzok) by Katerina Gornostai.

It tells about the meeting of five girlfriends. They gather in an apartment in the centre of Kyiv. They drink wine, discuss their fellows, salaries, work, and intimate life, they try on each other’s clothes… For one of them, this meeting becomes very special, because on the eve of the party she visited a doctor who diagnosed her with a serious condition.

Despite the fact that, of the five main characters, only one performer is a professional actress, each of the women looks extremely harmonious with her role.

This film has a poetic mood and tells very personal things; it works with intimacy in an exquisite manner. The film offers an amazing chemistry of relations among the female characters, played by stunning actresses and non-actresses who show the inner world of the women very convincingly. The cameraman uses his camera as an exquisite tool to open the mysterious souls of the of women.

The end-to-end symbol of the film is a blooming lilac. These flowers impress with their fragrance and beauty, but they do not bloom for long – just like the blooming of youth of these girls is very short. The protagonists have got confused by the dense aroma of the first serious feelings.

There are just a few shortcomings in this film. One of them is the duration of the film, which comes in at 30 minutes, a time that will block its way into a number of film festivals.

The film’s author Katerina Gornostay is one of the most promising young Ukrainian directors. Her previous short work Away (Vidallik) came top in the national competitions of the Kyiv and L’viv film festivals Molodist and Wiz-Art. At OIFF-2017 Lilac received two diplomas: the Special Mention of the National Competition Jury and the FIPRESCI Prize for Best Ukrainian Short.

The best short film of the national competition was the work Graduation ‘97 (Vipusk ‘97) by Pavel Ostrikov. This short shows very accurately the lost generation of Ukrainians. The protagonists were born when the Soviet empire collapsed. They matured and began to build their own world when the young Ukraine had not yet taken shape and was not yet exhausted from the decline into corruption and devastation.

At the heart of the plot is Roman. He repairs televisions and sells antennas on the market. One day he suddenly meets his old classmate. They have not seen each other for more than twenty years. This meeting is followed by a long solitary conversation which, however, will turn in the most unexpected way.

There is a delicate allusion to Stanley Kubrick’s Shining in this film. Terrible things here intertwine with more amusing aspects, and the bright humour contrasts with the miserable reality in which the main characters live.

The symbol of the TV set is very eloquent in this film. Television becomes a part of the protagonists’ consciousness. The main character concentrates all the bad taste, the dullness, the obsession and old-fashioned ways that are typical for many modern Ukrainians, for whom television is the main source of information.

An impressive and eloquent scene in this film shows the protagonist go through the crowd in the market with antennas on his back. They look like the skeletons of torn wings, allowing the viewer to read the protagonist as a mythological Icarus, who has not achieved his idealistic goal.

A similar symbol can also be found in another fine premiere of OIFF-2017, Black Level (Riven’ chornogo) by Valentin Vasyanovich, where in one of the scenes the main character also sits on a fitness machine on the street and shakes his hands vehemently. In this case, the simulator also has the shape of a skeleton of wings.

Well, the heroes of these films, which attempt in vain to fly and rise above the harsh and poor Ukrainian reality, very accurately convey the image of young Ukrainians who try to change something.

Edited by Birgit Beumers

Anton Filatov Ukrainian film critic, journalist, author of more than a thousand articles about cinema published in such publications as “frAza”, “Mirror of the Week” and many other resources. Filatov is the founder and editor of the online resource CutInsight, as well as a member of the Ukrainian Film Academy.