The Watchlist is Klassiki’s series of themed viewing recommendations drawing from the cinema of Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. For the latest edition of Klassiki Picks, our series of curated watchlists personally selected for our subscribers by celebrated filmmakers, writers, and actors, we’re delighted to welcome cook, writer, and activist Olia Hercules. Below, she introduces her selection of Ukrainian titles both classic and contemporary.
Earth (dir. Oleksandr Dovzhenko, 1930)
I’m honoured and delighted to have been picked by Klassiki to curate four Ukrainian films for you – two of which are recent and two of which are real classics.
Carol of the Bells (dir. Olesya Morgunets-Isaenko)
The first film is called Carol of the Bells, by director Olesya Morgunets-Isaenko. The film is set in the city of Stanyslaviv, modern-day Ivano-Frankivsk in western Ukraine, and it follows the lives of three families who are neighbours: one Ukrainian, one Polish, one Jewish. Unfortunately, they are stuck between a rock and a hard place: at first the Soviets come and repress the parents of the Polish family, and then the Germans come. In Ukraine it’s been hailed as the movie of light in the dark times after it came out this year. The title Carol of the Bells is originally “Schedryk” in Ukrainian, which is a Ukrainian folk song made famous worldwide by composer Mykola Leontovych – you’ll know it when it features in the film. There’s definitely a lot of light in this film despite the tragedy that permeates it.
Watch Carol of the Bells here.
Earth (dir. Oleksandr Dovzhenko)
Earth, by maverick Ukrainian director Oleksandr Dovzhenko, was filmed in 1929 and came out in the Soviet Union in 1930. It’s a silent film, in this case with a beautiful score by Stephen Horne. It is about collectivisation: in the late 1920s, the Soviets started the process of collectivisation, taking peasants’ land to create industrialised collective farms. That’s what the movie is supposed to be about. It came out and was quickly removed from cinemas. The Soviets criticised Dovzhenko, telling him that it was too much about the poetry of the land. Even though it’s black and white, it’s a feast for the eyes and the soul.
Watch Earth here.
My Thoughts Are Silent (dir. Antonio Lukich, 2019)
Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (dir. Sergei Parajanov)
Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors is set in the Carpathian Mountains and follows the lives of the Hutsul people, who are Ukrainian highlanders. It’s an unusual movie in many ways. It was released in the 1960s in the Soviet Union when national, idiosyncratic features were forbidden; Parajanov, being a non-conformist director, goes against the grain and creates this masterpiece. In a nutshell, it’s about a man who falls in love with the daughter of his father’s murderer. She dies, he falls in love again. The plot is important but what is more important are the dizzying visuals that Parajanov gives us, and the amount of folkloric colours, traditions, magic: it’s a highly unusual film both for Soviet times and in general. I cannot recommend it enough. Parajanov was an absolute genius.
Watch Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors here.
My Thoughts Are Silent (dir. Antonio Lukich)
My Thoughts Are Silent by Antonio Lukich is an indie comedy. It’s about a young sound engineer, Vadym, who gets commissioned by a Canadian company to record animal sounds in Transcarpathia – a part of western Ukraine by the Hungarian border. Vadym loves his job, he does it really well, very creatively – but there’s also the character of his mum, who tries to put a wedge between him and his work. So, it’s about parental relationships, generational differences. It’s a beautiful film in terms of audio and visuals that makes you think, and I find it’s also quite calming. I really hope you enjoy this one.
Watch My Thoughts Are Silent here.
Klassiki Picks with Olia Hercules is available to subscribers from 14 December 2023 – 4 January 2024.