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  Atlantis Post-War Ukraine?
Year: 2019
Director: Valentyn Vasyanovych
Stars: Andriy Rymaruk, Lyudmila Bileka, Vasyl Antoniak, Lily Hyde, Philip Paul Peter Hudson, Igor Tytarchuk, Sergiy Komishon, Sergey Livitsky, Vitaliy Sudarkov, Kateryna Popravka, Olexandr Sobko, Igor Kaznacheyev, Karolina Sheremeta, Stanislav Zymko
Genre: Drama, Science Fiction, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: This is Ukraine, or what's left of it, now that the war is over, some time in the near future. The conflict has left the country a desolate wasteland where the survivors try to scrape a living in what's left of the industry, mostly steel plants and the like, while the trauma of the disaster they have lived through, and indeed are suffering in the aftermath of, resonates in every brain. Including that of Sergiy (Andriy Rymaruk) who used to be a soldier fighting against the invaders, but now amuses himself playing at soldiers with his pal, also ex-military, shooting at metal targets which cannot fire back. What possible hope is there when all around is washed out, lifeless and grey, with barely any foliage to be seen? Is there any hope at all?

Well, hang on there, Sergiy, for there may be a reason to carry on should you manage to find the love of a good woman, though the film does not acknowledge that may not be available to everyone living through an environmental disaster. Early on we witness a man for whom work at the steel plant has just got too much to bear, and he proceeds to jump off a platform and into a barrel of molten metal, incinerated instantly, which is how most of his countrymen and women feel about sticking around in Ukraine if this is all that's on offer (it seems to be his boss slagging him off that's triggered his all-encompassing despair and desire to end it all). The relentless bleakness of the visuals were something to behold, and made this appear as a hymn to self-destruction.

Be that Sergiy failing to iron his clothes in his apartment and ironing his leg instead, then smashing the place up in fury, or the continued returning to the bodies being dug out of mass graves to be identified in a probably futile effort to give the victims of the war some dignity in death, by recognising them for who they were, not the rotting flesh and bone landfill they became. This was the long take style of cinema which guaranteed if you saw a corpse being laid out on a slab, you were assuredly going to sit through around five minutes of its autopsy, maybe more. Yet even in this grimness, there is a spark of life, because one of the examiners is Katya (Lyudmila Bileka), an ex-archaeologist who holds a small optimism that carrying on is what will see us through no matter what the circumstances, which attracts Sergiy to her and provides a casually presented romance.

Not that this was all lovey-dovey by any means, even if it did indulge one of those takes with a sex scene taking place in almost complete darkness for the, er, climax. There were in addition shots of lava-like waste being spilled from container trains, or a van broken down in the pouring rain that has been stuck on the road for hours before a passing truck can help, all contributing to the mood of humanity creating a vast landscape where they have almost made themselves obsolete, so near-insignificant are they in its environment. There has been a conflict going on in Ukraine for a long time, of course, and Russia is never named here as the enemy, but the fact that these regions were so easy to find and highlight - Ukraine essentially plays itself, and not flatteringly - was an indictment of the society as much as the contemporary Donbass, which many would be comparing Atlantis to. Though that was not set in the future, and you could argue that this supposed science fiction was nothing of the sort either, a sobering state of affairs even if director Valentyn Vasyanovych did want to stay with that hope in his heart, no matter how easy to miss it was in this setting.

[Click here to watch on MUBI.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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