In 2025, one year after Ukraine won their war with Russia, Ukrainian soldier Ivan (Vasyl Antoniak) laments to Sergiy (Andriy Rymaruk) that he doesn’t want to go to work because ‘everyone just wants a tsar to come in and solve their problems.’ The two face a depressing, dystopian world, their homeland made uninhabitable by the wartime pollution of land and water. But while Ivan takes a dramatic way out, Sergiy is intent on staying, especially after he meets Katya (Liudmyla Bileka) unearthing and documenting their military dead. She describes their work as archaeological, except their history is recent, a modern “Atlantis.”
Laura's Review: A-
Writer/director/cinematographer/editor Valentyn Vasyanovych’s film, the 2019 Venice grand prize winner and Ukraine’s submission for the 2021 International Oscar, is a visually inventive piece of post-war speculation which finds romantic love conquering the most depressing of circumstances. Filmed in an exaggerated widescreen in a series of single long takes, often static, Vasyanovych uses the horizon to contrast before and after, in one sequence three horizontal perspectives moving in opposite directions. It is an astonishingly composed piece of work.
The metal target practice dummies which are lined up for Ivan and Sergiy in the first scene are replaced by a belching smelting plant. Inside, a long metal railing protects from the fiery hell below, where a numb Ivan will contemplate his lack of future. In the next scene, we see a series of steel slag ladles atop a hill dump their waste, then miraculously move to the left as a figure in the foreground moves to the right and we realize those receptacles are on some kind of obscured platform. Vasyanovych has achieved a stunning effect without using any.
The archaeological theme is also well interwoven, at one point Sergiy leaving his drab, minimalist apartment to wander the ruins of a building leading to his prior one where objects of great meaning lie amidst dust and destruction. After a very ‘1984’ inspired prerecorded speech (tellingly in English) celebrating ‘new inventions’ basically informs Sergiy and others that their jobs are going away, Sergiy gets involved in the body retrieval business. Several grim scenes, including one in a morgue, offer us decomposing bodies in uniform and their possessions being catalogued, then prepared for burial. Teamed up with Katya, the transport van Sergiy drives conks out in a deluge and the couple take advantage of their wait for a tow with one of the most disturbing scenes of love making committed to film. And yet, the back doors of that van open to light on the horizon. With “Atlantis,” Vasyanovych has bounded onto the global stage.
Robin's Review: B+
It is 2025 and the long-fought war between Russia and Ukraine is finally over but the survivors - the soldiers that fought that war and the civilians who suffered through it - are left to rebuild life from its rubble. For one returned soldier, the struggle is too great and he ends it all. His best friend survived, though, and uses his experiences to help a younger man, and himself, find peace in “Atlantis.”
Director-writer Valentyn Vasyanovych gives us a dystopian look at the future of Ukraine that is actually steeped in the events of the present day and the not nearly talked about enough conflict in eastern Ukraine with Putin’s invaders. This timely future fiction (not, I note, science fiction) is a harsh look at life after the years long and ecologically devastating war with Russia.
Following the horrific suicide of his best friend and comrade-in-arms, Sergyi (Andriy Rymaruk), takes on the dangerous job delivering water to those trying to survive the desolation around them. When he meets Katya (Liudmyla Bileka), a volunteer with an organizing locating and exhuming the graves of unidentified dead soldiers and reuniting the fallen with their families, his life has a new and positive direction.
But, life in the region, particularly for the volunteers and anyone trying to drive a car, is arduous, to say the least, with a landscape littered with the millions of landmines and their constant threat of death. Add this dangerous task the volunteers as they try to bring a semblance of peace to the families of the war dead. In the midst of this left over desolation and barren land there is hope and, possibly, love. It is a strange but compelling story.
"Atlantis" will begin a virtual run at the Brattle on 1/29/21 - click here for details.