Klondike is a Ukrainian military drama about the inhabitants of a village over which a Malaysian Boeing was shot down. This picture is a furious and expressive document of the era


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At the film festival in the Czech city of Zlín, a feature film by Ukrainian director Marina Er Gorbach “Klondike” was shown. The premiere of the film took place in January 2022 at Sundance, in February it was shown at the Berlinale. On July 17, the drama was released in Ukrainian distribution. This is a playful picture about the inhabitants of the village of Grabovo in the Donbass, whose house was shot down Malaysian Boeing. Film critic Anton Dolin talks about a film dedicated to people whose lives have changed forever.

The Klondike is a river in Canada, where at the end of the century before last, thousands of gold miners rushed in the hope of getting rich quick. For most of them, dreams turned into disappointment and personal tragedy. The heroes of Marina Er Gorbach’s film “Klondike” do not count on improving their well-being: they, residents of the village of Grabovo in the Donbass, just want to be left alone. But during the war, even such a modest desire turns out to be impossible. And after July 17, 2014, when a Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down in the sky above their house, life changed forever.

Among the tragedies of that terrible year, this one, which claimed the lives of three hundred innocent people, became a turning point: after it, it became impossible not to notice the events in Ukraine. Remarkably focused, parsimonious and expressive, with an infrequent dignity of wholeness, Gorbach’s film is about just that. Any neutrality during the war is only a mirage, self-deception and cowardice, which will ultimately destroy you.

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Irka (the strong role of Oksana Cherkashina) lives on the outskirts, far from her neighbors, together with her husband Tolik (Sergei Shadrin, accurate in every detail) – a seemingly brutal strong man who in fact always doubts his words and actions, and a strong-willed and noisy wife a little afraid. She is pregnant – and the future of the family literally depends on her mood swings. Although they often argue, they agree on one thing: their hut is on the edge, and this is for the best. However, one terrible night, a shell that flew in from nowhere destroys the wall of their house. Now they are not on the edge, but on the edge of the abyss, where all the calculations for a calm peaceful life are about to collapse.

The spectator feels just as uncomfortable, whom the calmly neutral, smoothly unhurried camera style of Svyatoslav Bulakovsky literally makes a witness to what is happening. It is unlikely that somewhere else the metaphor of breaking the “fourth wall” was so literally embodied. Irka and Tolik also lose the chance to “not see evil”. From now on, their entire house is a huge hole facing outward, and any stranger can enter their bedroom.

Gorbach herself is far from being neutral. Klondike is a supremely passionate, energetic, emotional film in which these qualities are masterfully hidden behind a meticulously constructed art form. At the same time, in the very course of the action, every minute more and more reminiscent of a nightmare, and in the way the system of characters is built, in their remarks and actions, the author’s partiality is visible.

At another time, one could consider this a shortcoming of the film and the costs of the fact that we have before us the independent debut of Gorbach, who previously filmed in collaboration. Today, during the war, this turns into an amazing merit, noted, however, by the professional jury of the American Sundance (prize for directing), and the audience of the Berlinale (second place in the voting of the Panorama program). This film literally does not give the viewer the right to indifference.

With horror and disgust, we look at the separatists, indifferent to the value of not only other people’s lives, but also the lives of their own comrades; what to say about the victims, on whom someone accidentally “fired” from the Buk. The lion’s share of contempt falls on Tolik’s friend – the joyfully overexcited Sanya (colorful Oleg Shevchuk), dreaming out loud: “The Russians will come, we will finally live like nobles.” In the meantime, he expropriates a car from a comrade so that the “boys” in camouflage will drive for beer, after which he advises in a friendly way to slaughter the only cow: you need to feed the fighters for the freedom of Donbass with something. And that the wall of the house of Tolik and Irka was demolished … “well, they missed.”

Only Irka’s brother, Yarik (Oleg Shcherbina), who has arrived from Kyiv, is trying to bring someone to life, one against all. He is probably needed here only as a glimmer of light in a dark kingdom where a child is about to be born. Not noticing what is happening (“this is not bullshit, this is war,” the residents of Grabovo suddenly see clearly) is just as destructive and simply stupid as ignoring pregnancy and not realizing that one day the waters will break.

Almost six months after the start of the Russian military invasion of Ukraine, the Klondike looks like a furious cry of warning addressed to everyone who managed to ignore what was happening. However, in the history of Ukrainian cinema, Gorbach’s film will remain not only an expressive document of the era, but also a model of artistic honesty in talking about the most painful.

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Anton Dolin

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