Ukrainian Cinema Day: 12 modern films everyone should see
From movies about the war with russia to films about the real life of teenagers and a Paralympic athlete. We explain where viewers from abroad can watch Ukrainian films.
On the Day of Ukrainian Cinema, September 10, people usually remember the most famous films of Ukrainian directors, which have long been recognized as masterpieces, like Earth by Oleksandr Dovzhenko, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors by Serhii Paradzhanov, The Guide by Oles Sanin, The White Bird Marked with Black and Forest Song.Mavka by Yurii Ilienko, and the American-Ukrainian film Zakhar Berkut. But modern Ukrainian cinematography also has more to brag about!
Ukrainian cinema is attracting more and more attention from our compatriots and the whole world. Having united on their front, Ukrainians have been bravely fighting a powerful enemy for their land and freedom for eight years. The film industry was no exception. Since 2014, our cinematographers have defended their country, volunteered, and resisted the enemy in captivity. They also write scripts and shoot and present feature and documentary films. They are honest, engaging, noticeable, and often impressive. They support Ukrainians and help our foreign friends to understand Ukraine better. They also win prestigious awards at film festivals.
Solution—telling the world about Ukrainian cinema
At the same time, you might catch up on films that you haven't had time to watch yet. Rubryka has gathered films that every Ukrainian can feel incredibly close to, that will tell about Ukraine better than emotionless newspaper headlines. Not all of them are about war because even now, our life is not only about fighting. But we are sure these 12 modern Ukrainian films will not leave anyone indifferent.
Sniper. The White Raven, 2022
Just now, the full-length feature film Sniper.The White Raven is in the theaters. The film is based on the real story of an eco-settler and teacher from Horlivka, who, after the occupation of his hometown in 2014, enrolled in a volunteer battalion and turned from a pacifist into a sniper. The main character, whose beloved and future child was taken away from him by the war, wants to take revenge and sets out on a special mission to eliminate an enemy sniper-pro.
The director and co-author of the script, Marian Bushan, characterizes the film as a war drama with elements of action and admits that his inner overriding task as a director was the need to "tell the world about our struggle, to be talked about, remembered and supported." The film's finale became almost prophetic. It was filmed in the winter in the Kyiv region, where russian troops entered in February 2022, in the first days of large-scale aggression. It is also significant that the actor Pavlo Aldoshin, who played the main character, sniper Voronin, underwent special military training half a year before filming, and now he is fighting in the ranks of the Ukrainian forces.
The film Klondike by the Kyiv director was chosen to participate in the Oscar selection. The work of Ukrainian director and screenwriter Maryna Er Horbach will be presented in the category Best International Feature Film from Ukraine.
The film depicts the story of a young couple who found themselves at the epicenter of the terrible plane crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on July 17, 2014, in the village of Hrabovo, Donetsk region. War is coming to the Donetsk region when Ira and Tolia expect their first child. Despite the constant quarrels, the husband and the wife's brother want one thing: to evacuate the pregnant woman. However, she refuses to leave, even when armed groups overrun the village. Meanwhile, a civilian plane is shot down in the sky above them.
The film has already received the award for the best director at the Sundance Film Festival and the Ecumenical Jury Prize at the Berlinale. The film will be released in Ukraine on November 3, 2022, and you can view the film's trailer at the link.
Butterfly Vision, 2022
Butterfly Vision is the full-length debut of Maksym Nakonechnyi. This is a brutal and surreal story about a warrior woman who refuses to be a victim.
After being released from enemy captivity, the aerial scout Lilia tries to return to her peaceful life in Ukraine. Her pain and trauma from the experiences constantly emerge, as if in a dream, but something inside her doesn't allow her to forget why she has to live.
The film was selected for the competition program of the 75th Cannes Film Festival. Film critic Todd McCartney wrote that Butterfly Vision is perhaps the most relevant and complex film at Cannes this year. And his colleague Lee Marshall spoke about the film as follows: "this tough but compelling film will appeal to arthouse audiences anywhere who are keen to go beyond black-and-white news and social media coverage of the ongoing war," and called the film "a sensitive, nuanced meditation on war and its effects on the psyche of individuals and nations."
The premiere of the film Rhino by Ukrainian director Oleh Sentsov took place literally before russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. They started shooting it ten years ago. But Sentsov could continue working on it only after he returned from a russian prison.
The film's events are set in a Ukrainian industrial city in the nineties. The main character is a guy from the nineties, nicknamed Rhino. With his gang, he feels like a real "king": he maims, kills, sets fire to stalls, fights with other thugs, and has fun to his heart's content. "This story is about a person who went through a difficult path. First, the idea for the film arose around a story I heard from an acquaintance. Even later, I understood that it is how you can show the influence of the nineties on our present because we still live by concepts, not laws. This was one of the reasons for the Maidan because Yanukovych turned Ukraine into a bandit state. I showed where it came from," the director explained the film's idea.
At the Batumi and Stockholm film festivals, the performer of the leading role Serhii Filimonov (former head of the Kyiv branches of Azov regiment and Pravyi Sektor), was recognized as the best actor. Rhino won another award in Stockholm as the best feature film.
Mother of Apostles, 2020
Zaza Buadze's Ukrainian film Mothers of Apostles won three nominations at the New York Film Festival: Best Feature Film, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay. Also, the Ukrainian war drama received the leading award at the international film festival, Asia Film Art, in Hong Kong. Since the day of the premiere in 2020, the film has already received more than 20 awards.
The film is based on the real-life stories of mothers whose sons fought in eastern Ukraine in 2014. According to the plot, Sofia, the main character, is looking for her pilot son. His plane was shot down over the occupied territories of Ukraine's east. A woman finds herself in the epicenter of military events, but despite this, she tries to save her son, his brothers, and even enemies.
On February 24, 2022, the Ukrainian border guards took the first blow —as they did eight years ago in the East of Ukraine. Today, the creative team of the film Myrnyi-21 defends the Ukrainian land on a par with other defenders: someone joined the ranks of the territorial defense, someone took an oath and joined the Ukrainian forces, and someone found themselves volunteering or on the information front, and the actor Pavlo Li died tragically on March 6 in Irpin, saving children.
Akhtem Seitablaiev's military drama Myrnyi-21 tells the story of the Luhansk border detachment, whose soldiers were unsuccessfully tried by separatists and russian special services in 2014 to force them to betray their country.
"Based on real events, the film has practical value, and once again can promote the idea that Ukrainians will persevere on the international stage; this was the case in 2014, and this will be the case today," the creators of the film say.
"Slovo" House: Unfinished Novel, 2021
Taras Tomenko's film "Slovo" House: Unfinished Novel is a feature film about the Ukrainian intelligentsia of the beginning of the 20th century, who lived in a house at 9 Kultury Street in Kharkiv. What begins as a bohemian idyll gradually becomes a story of soulless Soviet terror: the most famous artists of Ukrainian culture were systematically and deliberately destroyed by the Soviet authorities, physically or psychologically.
The release of the film was preceded by eight years of archival work. The authors note that the picture has not only Ukrainian stars but also a reasonably accurate historical reconstruction of the era. Ukrainian film "Slovo" House: Unfinished Novel won at the International Film Festival in Kosice (Slovakia).
My Thoughts Are Silent, 2019
Antonio Lukich's comedy My Thoughts Are Silent will help distract from the present and past horrors. It is a film without flat jokes and stereotypical clichés. Only real Ukrainian humor will lift your mood! Everything is perfect in this film: the idea, the situation, the actors, the scenery, the jokes, and the soundtrack.
The plot tells about how a young sound engineer tries to find a rare bird to record its singing on audio and earn a good amount of money. His plans may be successful, but a not-too-predictable partner—his mother—goes on a trip to Zakarpattia with the main character. The film is funny, sad, and philosophical and may make you want to call your parents.
Luxembourg, Luxembourg, 2022
Another recent film by Lukich is the tragicomedy Luxembourg, Luxembourg. According to the script, the main events take place in 1998. Twin brothers, opposite in personality, learn that their father, who abandoned them in their childhood, is dying in Luxembourg, far away from them. One of the brothers, Kolia, decides to go to him, while the other, Vasyl, does everything possible to prevent his brother from leaving the country. The numerous obstacles that befall Kolia are more like a test of courage: now, Kolia, who is used to running away from problems, doesn't give up even when there's no way out. In the end, unexpectedly for themselves, the two brothers go to meet their father. We will find out during the screening whether this trip will live up to the brothers' expectations. The film will be released in Ukrainian theaters at the end of 2022.
The film, where the brothers, members of the band Kurgan and Agregat, Ramil and Amil Nasirov, also starred in the movie, this year is competing for the leading award of the competition program Orizzonti La Biennale di Venezia 2022, which ends today in Venice.
Kateryna Hornostai's full-length feature debut, Stop-Zemlia, became a film that surprisingly truthfully managed to show the life of Ukrainian teenagers who are getting their first experience growing up. The characters of Stop-Zemlia are ordinary teenagers who spend their last year at school preparing for a new stage of life. Most of them doubt their future, their thoughts are confused, and their desires are far from focusing on education. The main character, Masha, is a withdrawn girl who spends all her time with her two best friends. Each is going through a difficult period, so the youth doesn't seem carefree and completely happy. Teenagers fall in love, deal with depression and try to figure themselves out. However, the film has no terrible dramatic exaggerations, unnatural lines, or situations detached from reality. Stop-Zemlia is like a two-hour contemplation of today's 16-year-old schoolchildren to melancholic electronic music. By the way, the film is also recognized for its soundtracks. It included the works of Ukrainian musicians unknown to the general public but worth paying attention to.
How Is Katia? 2022
Ukrainian film directed by Kristina Tynkevych, How Is Katia?, won two awards at the 75th Locarno International Film Festival. The performer of the leading role, Anastasia Karpenko, was recognized as the best actress.
The social drama How Is Katia? tells the story of emergency doctor Anna, who seeks justice in this imperfect world to defeat the system. The idea for the film came from Kristina Tynkevych from the short film Solatium, where the director explored the theme of human grief and the revenge it entails. Three years after the short film's release, Kristina Tynkevych turned the initial idea into a full-length movie.
"I have always been deeply moved by stories based on critical moral questions, stories that prompt the heroes to make difficult compromise choices. We all believe that we know who we are and have clear markers of black and white when it comes to moral choices. But is it so?" says the director.
It's an incredibly inspiring film by Ukrainian director Serhii Chebotarenko and the first sports biopic in the history of the latest Ukrainian cinema. The film Pulse is based on actual events and has a vivid image of the main character, Paralympics champion Oksana Boturchuk.
So, a young resident of a small town, Oksana, dreams of the Olympics. However, she encounters envy from her teammates on the way, and her father and mother, also former athletes, try to talk her out of it by concentrating on a more promising music career. However, a terrible car accident dashes all the girl's and her family's hopes; she almost wholly loses sight. It seems that now Oksana has no chance for the desired Olympic Games and normal life. However, she will not give up and wants to prove that there are no obstacles on the way to an absolute dream.
Even more helpful solutions!
The Ukrainian Institute, in partnership with the Irish company Usheru, has launched a website with a database of Ukrainian cinema. The site suggests where you can watch one or another Ukrainian film depending on a person's geolocation.
It is primarily a resource for foreigners who want to familiarize themselves with our cinematography. There are My Thoughts Are Silent, Rhino, Stop-Zemlia, and many other films. In total, more than 600 modern and archival films! It is convenient because the portal has a Watch Now tab, and all the movies have a link to the service where you can watch them. You can also choose a specific platform for viewing.
"Watching Ukrainian films, viewers worldwide can pay tribute to Ukrainian culture and support film professionals. Watching movies has never been so meaningful," Usheru co-founder and CEO Oliver Fegan are confident.
One of the authors of the well-known website about cinema, IMDb, compiled the top 50 Ukrainian documentaries worth watching to understand Ukraine better, the largest country in Europe, torn by war but stable and invincible, and appreciate the importance of supporting Ukraine. After all, as noted by Ukrainian director Taras Tomenko: "Cinema is a powerful weapon. It strikes no worse than the Himars!"