Ukrainian surgeon Serhiy (Roman Lutskyi) is exhausted by the constant stream of wounded coming through his operating theater. His situation becomes far worse when he is captured in the Donetsk region along with his teenaged daughter Polina’s (Nika Myslytska) stepfather Andriy (Andriy Rymaruk, “Atlantis”), a soldier. Serhiy is tortured and, perhaps worse, made accomplice to the torture and disposal of colleagues when the Prison Chief (Ihor Shulha) learns he is a surgeon. Upon his release during a prisoner exchange, Serhiy gathers Polina and ex-wife Olha (Nadia Levchenko) closer, burdened with what he has not yet told them during a time of “Reflection.”
Laura's Review: B+
Writer/director/cinematographer/editor Valentyn Vasyanovych’s last film, “Atlantis,” featured a post-war Ukrainian protagonist falling in love while identifying and burying war dead. His new film is almost a prequel, featuring another protagonist who also lives in a rather dismal apartment, this time taking care of wounded and dead in real time, the war on-going if not yet escalated to its current full scale invasion. The title is a double entendre, a pigeon flying into Serhiy’s window, leaving its outline like a death mask, a symbol of both hope, it having seen the sky in glass, something which may be true of Ukrainians fighting for their country, and the Holy Spirit. (The filmmaker was inspired by a similar event, which led to discussions about death with his daughter, who was troubled by the experience, and plays Serhiy’s daughter here.)
It is notable that we view most scenes set outside the war zone through a sheet of glass – the ironic opening scene where Polina plays paintball as her parents watch behind glass, the glass which separates us from Serhiy’s operating theater, the picture window in his apartment and windshields. The vehicle Serhiy and Andriy drive into the DPR has its windshield shattered, and we view terrible events straight on with no reflection until Serhiy returns home, his experience having changed him.
Visually, “Reflection” is a bookend to “Atlantis” as well, shot in the same 2.39:1 widescreen with a centered camera which is mostly static (Vasyanovych’s style is reminiscent of Swedish director Roy Andersson’s, although Vasyanovych’s tableaux flow into each other, his colors darker than reality). As in “Atlantis,” there is a scene of a contraption belching fire, only this time it is a portable crematorium, labeled ‘Humanitarian Aid from Russian Federation,’ perhaps the same type of ‘aid’ reportedly cleaning up war crimes today.
After the horrifically disturbing events of the second act, Serhiy’s return in the third illustrates a man suffering PTSD, now given to running. Using a burner phone at a stop in the woods, he arranges for the transport of Andriy’s body. He also saves a bicyclist from a pack of dogs. He fulfills Andriy’s promise of riding lessons for Polina, then, oddly, is rescued by a polo player on horseback when he is beset by that same pack of dogs. One may draw symbolic conclusions.
Robin's Review: B+
2014. Serhiy (Roman Lutski) is a surgeon conscripted to help the Ukrainian army in the battle against the Russian invaders in the east. When captured and after being tortured, he witnesses unspeakable brutality and murder of Ukrainian POWs by Russian soldiers just before his release. Once freed and in safety, his horrifying experience forces the doctor confront his own PTSD and rekindle his relationship with his estranged daughter, Polina (Nika Myslyts’ka), in “Reflection.”
Director Valentyn Vasyanovich changes gear from his last film, “Atlantis (2019),” about a post-war, dystopian world of Ukraine, following the end of the 2025 war with Russia. With “Reflection,” he roots his story in 2014 eastern Ukraine amidst that war with Russia, a reality that has grown by magnitudes today.
We meet Serhiy on Polina’s birthday, where is a third wheel when he joins in the celebration with his daughter, his ex-wife Otha (Nadiya Levchenko) and her boyfriend, Andriy (Andriy Rymaruk), a combat soldier heading back to the front. The backdrop, a paintball game Polina is taking part in, is an almost mirthful setting for the dire yet matte-of-fact conversation of war the two men have.
The drafted surgeon, when captured, is tortured at the hands of his brutal and sadistic Russian captors. Once they discover that he is a doctor, they enlist him to check the “health” of their other victims. He is simply asked, “is he alive?’ to see if further torture is warranted. One of the victims is…. Find out for yourself.
Following the horrors, the doctor returns to the safety of Kyiv and realizes he, too, is a victim who suffered serious mental damage at the hands of his Russian tormentors. This realization also triggers the need to rekindle his relationship with Polina. As such, it is a story about a needless war started by Vladimir Putin (sound familiar?) and what it does to people and their families.
This somber tome, made before the current invasion of Ukraine, is prescient in its predictions of things to come, sadly.
Film Movement is releasing “Reflection” in theaters and virtually on 5/6/22 – click here for playdates.