War and birth: A tale of a hole in the wall

WELCOME to my home. Irka (Oksana Cherkashnya) attempts to make peace with what the Ukrainian war has done to her house, in the European Film Festival film ‘Klondike’. Photograph

IN THIS HYPER gender-aware world in which we live, the beast of war still forces slippages back into old stereotypes. With astounding simplicity and boldness, this is the premise of the Ukrainian film Klondike, which is directed, produced, written and edited by Maryna Er Gorbach. You can see it on this year’s European Film Festival; designed to be hybrid, it offers limited screenings and online access in Johannesburg and Cape Town, between 13 and 23 October, Mbabane between 21 and 23 October and Maseru, between 28 and 30 October.

Often teetering on the brink of the truly absurd, Klondike resonates with the kind of difficult ideas that infuse Chilean writer Ariel Dorfman’s play Delirium, which was performed in South Africa in 2012, under the direction of Greg Homann. It’s about the madness of how war can inflict itself into the interstices of domestic existence with a crudeness that is rude, but a reality that you cannot allow your head to bypass.

Only you don’t get to laugh in this particular film. The ribaldry is raw and the decisions taken by the characters here, make you think of your own humanity. Tolik (Sergey Shadrin) and Irka (Oksana Cherkashnya) live life with simplicity but modern conveniences. They have a cow called Maya and chickens, but also a microwave and LED television. When the war of 2014 in the Ukraine bursts literally through their home, in the form of a shell, the couple touches on romantic whimsy as they look at the hole inflicted and think about the view it now offers.

But in the eyes of political sides taken, the flimsy values of loyalty and the path of heavily armed soldiers, there is no place for whimsy or romance, and men must be men and women, women in the face of the ghastly old stereotypes of breaking other people’s bodies and doing work around the house.

In this film, there are no real clues as to how, idiomatically or otherwise, the Canadian term ‘klondike’ fits, for viewers who do not know Ukrainian, Russian or Chechen. Shot with an eye to the landscape that puts the horizon line high, and the characters’ faces at close range, the work is at times strengthened and at other times, weakened, by a sense of visual monotony, and overused cinematic ideas which teeter on the side of cliché.

It is, however, the wise underpinning of ideas which hold this very slow moving work together with acuity and shock and that give you insight into how war penetrates our deepest core. It also contains a denouement which will leave you with your hair standing on end.

Klondike is directed by Maryna Er Gorbach and features a cast headed by Artur Aramyan, Oksana Cherkashyna, Evgeniy Efremov, Oleksiy Konovalenkov, Tetiana Misik, Serhii Momot, Anatolij Ohorodnyk, Nadir Samedov, Danylo Savchenko, Sergey Shadrin, Oleg Shcherbina, Oleg Shevchuk and Amdrii Taroshevskii. Written by Maryna Er Gorbach, it is produced by Svyatoslav Bulakovskiy, Mehmet Bahadir Er and Maryna Er Gorbach and features creative input by Zviad Mgebry (music), Svyatoslav Bulakovskiy (cinematography), Maryna Er Gorbach (editing), Tetyana Symon (casting) and Viktoria Filipova (costumes). In Ukrainian, Russian, Chechen and Dutch with English subtitles, it is part of the 9thEuropean Film Festival South Africa, screening in Johannesburg, Cape Town and online, 13-23 October 2022; and Mbabane at the Alliance Française, 21-23 October and Maseru at the Alliance Française, 28-30 October.

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