The Ukrainian film Klondike has been the talk of the film festival circuit, and for good reason. It’s also a film that is, unfortunately, well-timed for what’s happening now.
Irka and Tolik are a young couple who live on a farm in Ukraine close to the Russian border in 2014. Irka is expecting a baby soon. Both Irka and Tolik plan on doing their farm work normally until a bomb explodes near their farm. They are caught in between the war between Russia and Ukraine. The explosion causes the wall to their living room to collapse. Despite this threat, Irka does not want to leave the house. She is going to stay here and have the baby here.
Things prove difficult. They try to continue on with their lives. Tolik has to do farmwork and tend to Irka, but the area sees an increase of Ukrainian nationalists and Russian separatists. Frequently he meets up with his friend Sanya. Sanya is a Russian and he’s able to help Tolik get items at a cost. This is definitely frustrating Irka. Especially as Tolik wants them both to leave the area. Then one day a shocking thing happens. An airplane caught in the war’s crossfire crashes down in an area close to the border and close to Irka and Tolik’s farm.
With the plane shot down being a commercial aircraft, this is something that will bring a lot of people down, like the news media, the UN, ambulances, firemen, and soldiers from both sides. This makes like very invasive for both Irka and Tolik. Tolik still wants to move but Irka is still insistent. Irka even has her brother Yurik, a soldier with the Ukrainian army, come to help out. Despite losing the wall, Irka wants the couch placed outdoors. Yurik and Tolik reluctantly take the couch out with Irka still on it. During the stay, Yurik notices something of Tolik’s. He has a Russian uniform. He is convinced that Tolik is a Russian separatist. That leads to conflict between the two which Irka tries to stop.
As time progresses on, more people come to the area, including more soldiers and religious leaders and their followers to pray over the deceased. This frustrates Tolik and he decides to take Irka and leave. Right in the middle of leaving, Irka walks out of the car. Tolik tries to get her back in but she resists forcefully. Tolik agree to continue to help Irka and stay in the house. Unknown to Irka is that Tolik has held Yurik captive in their basement bunker.
Then one day, the area has Chechen rebels in to get a piece of the action. They target the home of Yurik, Irka and Tolik. The Chechen rebels torture Yurik and Tolik and watch as Irka goes into labor. Most of the rebels take Tolik and Yurik outside to deal with them while two watch Irka and joke about what they’ll do with the baby. Outside the rebels get Tolik to execute Yurik. Yurik says to Tolik that he is not a separatist. Then they get Yurik to execute Tolik. Since neither man will, the terrorists execute them both. The terrorists then leave the house as Irka gives birth on the couch.
This film appears to be the right film at the right time. Right as Ukraine is still going through a brutal war against Russia, this film takes people back to the Russo-Ukrainian War. In addition, it adds a major news even from that period: the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Fight 17 by the Ukraine-Russia border. There’s no doubt that this film is bound to bring up a lot of talk. Especially since there are many areas of Ukraine that have a high Russian population. That has often happened in nations that were former Soviet Republics that Russians move in or peoples would be displaced over periods of time. It’s because of that Putin feels he can go in and take the territories. Even declare some nations like Ukraine as actually being part of Russia.
This film is a story that’s bound to provoke a lot of discussion. Irka and Tolik have their farm close to the Ukraine-Russia border. It’s right in the middle of the Russia-Ukraine border. The plane crash happens very close to their farm. Irka’s brother Yurik is a soldier in the Ukrainian Army. Tolik’s close friend and associate is a Russian. This is bound to get a lot of people thinking. It would not surprise me how many families with both Russians and Ukrainians would face clashes over this war. And to think this is a war where a passenger plane and over 100 of its passengers were unintended casualties. War is always ugly, but it is very intense. And to think this is a story of a pregnancy happening in the middle of it and a wife that refuses to leave her home despite the threat of danger. This is a story that will get one thinking.
Top acclaim should go to writer/director Maryna Er Gorbach. She did an excellent job of delivering a thought-provoking story of a complicated war happening as a pregnancy is happening. She did a very good job of placing the events with the story and not taking anything away or hiding anything from the tense topic. Also excellent is the acting from Oksana Cherkashyna. She does an excellent job as the wife caught in this conflict. She does a good job of portraying a woman confused, fearful, feeling neglected and still trying to maintain hope. Also excellent is the performance of Sergei Shadrin. Hard to believe he died shortly after shooting in June of 2021 at the age of 41. Sergei delivers an excellent performance of a man who is confused and tries to be supportive, but has something to hide. Oleg Shcherbina does an excellent job of being the brother caught in the middle of the friction. Also excellent is the cinematography of Svyatoslav Bulakovskiy. His inclusion of panoramic shots during certain scenes add to the film.
This film is Ukraine’s official entry for this year’s Oscar race in the Best International Feature Film category. At the Sundance Film Festival, the film was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize for the World Cinema – Dramatic category. Er Gorbach won the Best Director Award for the genre category. The film has since received many accolades like winning the Ecumenical Jury Prize at the Berlin Film Festival, winning Best International Film at the Fribourg Film Festival, Grand Prix Winner at the Ghent Film Festival, Best International Film at the Heartland Film Festival, Winner of Best International Feature at the Santiago Film Fest and winner of Best Feature Film at the Seattle Film Festival.
Klondike is the right film at the right time. It says a lot of the differences of Ukraine and Russia. It also tells how political turmoil can threaten a family in even the most remote areas. It’s a message we need to hear right now.