A film that will join one of my favorites which I will never be able to watch again – these are the words I heard during the discussion after the screening of “Klondike”. For me, they quite accurately describe the emotions after the screening and express the impressions eloquently – writes our reviewer. The film directed by Maryna Er Gorbach was shown in the Focus: Storytelling competition at the Lublin Film Festival.

“Klondike” is a difficult film that is heavy, but it is necessary to talk about it. The story of a family waiting for the birth of their daughter in one of the villages of Donbas, during the beginnings of the war in 2014. Captured by armed separatists and the Russian military, they become witnesses and victims of war crimes. A Russian artillery shell destroys their house, pro-Russian separatists plunder their farm and take their property, and Russians abuse a man and his pregnant wife. The climax of the film is one of the greatest Russian war crimes – the shooting down of a civilian Boeing 777 passenger plane belonging to Malaysia Airlines. All passengers and staff of the plane tragically die – a total of 298 people.

I was struck by the way the Ukrainian director spoke to us – the viewers. By warning at the beginning of the film that the story is true, it documents a reality that has already passed. That’s how I felt about the film – I felt it was a documentary. I felt the story and the characters, I felt all the hopelessness of their reality.

Despite this, the film is presented in a form completely unusual for documentary cinema. Long, static shots that often move slowly and unhurriedly in their own direction, losing sight of characters and events, only for them to try to come back into view. The characters try to draw our attention to their own tragedy, attention that is so easy to lose.

The very melancholic and tired look that the author offers us complements the lack of music in the film. We will only hear it once, when the main character’s brother and her husband are desperately trying to rebuild the wall of the family house, which was destroyed by Russian artillery. At this point, the brother takes out an old tape recorder and plays the song “Penguin Dance” by Skriabin. In my opinion, it was one of the strongest moments of the film – two completely opposite people, connected only by love for the main character, try to rebuild her house, which she does not want to leave. Each of them understood that it was a Sisyphean task. The house is destroyed and there are no materials nor tools. There is not even clean water to drink.

The heroes realize that they must leave this place as soon as possible. After the Russians arrived, they had almost nothing left, the only thing they had was hope. There is a lot of depression and melancholy around them, but the music that plays tells us directly that everything will be fine, life is so carefree, enjoy it and abandon all your problems. It is unlikely that they believed it themselves, but as long as they lived, they proved to the enemy that they had not yet lost.

However, the film ends tragically, leaving no hope. It destroys any chance of a happy ending. It only shows us horror and fear. The story talks very eloquently about the war without showing it. This approach leaves us with an even greater fear of the unknown. We do not see the war, we only see its shadow.

After losing two of her closest people – her brother and her husband, who were killed by the Russians – the heroine gives birth prematurely in her ruined house. This is the most terrifying scene I have ever seen. For about fifteen minutes we watch a childbirth in a ruined house, on a couch, where through a broken wall we can see a serene field and a calm sky. The shot is static, raw and still. We are focused of the heroine, frozen, unable to help her. This scene probably best describes the entire plot of the film – the characters can only be observe their own lives, unable to help, unable to do anything, just as we, the viewers, can do nothing. We can only watch and experience. This is how it was in July 2014, somewhere in the endless fields of Donbas.

During the discussion after the screening, the host asked the audience: why is the film titled “Klondike”? This answer was the best for me: Throughout the movie, we were sneaking, walking, and reaching for gold. This child, born in a place of death and suffering, is that gold – the only hope, the only symbol of life in the midst of the whirlwind of death.

Yurii Boiko

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