WHEN YOU ARE finished being a teenager, you may look back on those years with a curious mix of nostalgia, gentleness and maybe condemnation. Your sixteen-year old self was you, but unformed, less confident, more unaware. More physically perfect, but less able to know that. In thinking all these thoughts, you may forget what it is really like to be a teen. The pressure. The depression. The intensity. These elements are explored by Kateryna Gornostai in Stop Zemlia, a stream-of-consciousness focus on Ukrainian teens. It will be available online and without cost, as part of the 8th European Film Festival South Africa, which runs from 14 until 24 October 2021. Bookings open on 13 October.
And it is here where we meet Masha (Maria Fedorchenko), who is on the one hand like a boyish-looking adolescent, but on the other, a beautiful young woman on that awkward cusp of self-awareness. As evocative of Larry Clark’s 1995 film Kids as Mr Bachmann and his Class which also features on this year’s festival is, the work takes the form of an immersive documentary, featuring trained performers, but it is interspersed with elements that feel like therapy, where the different children are focused on individually, answering difficult questions about the self.
It’s a very beautiful film, made so by careful filmic development, magnificent performers and an understanding of the first blushes of youth, which have aesthetic appeal even if they have acne and sexual uncertainty. If, however, you’re looking for a clear plot in this work, you may find it disappointing. There are plots intersected with plots but no real grand narrative. The thrust of the work is about the paralysing social horror of falling in love with a peer. And how embarrassing it is, but also how perfect you consider that someone to be.
Stop Zemlia is directed by Kateryna Gornostai and is performed by a cast headed by Maria Fedorchenko, Sasha Hanskyi, Yana Isaienko and Arsenii Markov. Written by Kateryna Gornostai, it is produced by Olga Beskhmelnitsyna, Viktoria Khomenko, Natalia Libet and Vitaliy Sheremetiev and features creative input by Maryanna Klochko (music), Oleksandr Roshchyn (cinematography), Kateryna Gornostai and Nikon Romanchenko (editing), Maxym Nimenko (production design) and Alyona Gres (costumes). In Ukrainian with English subtitles, it is part of the 8th European Film Festival South Africa, screening online and without cost from 14-24 October 2021. Bookings open on 13 October.