Subscription 790/year or 190/quarter

From the Pearl of the Black Sea to a political game piece

Delta, Home Games
Regissør: Regissør Oleksandr Tetsjynskij Regissør Alisa Kovalenko
(Ukraina, Tyskland, Ukraina, Storbritannia)

Odessa's international film festival was naturally influenced by political themes this year.


One author once warned: Don't travel to Odessa! The sweet scent of the blossoming acacia trees will seduce you, and your heart will be lost forever.

The port city on the sunny shores of the Black Sea – where I have been invited to the Odessa International Film Festival – has always been known as the city of artists and has inspired many of Russia's foremost writers. Alexander Pushkin completed the second chapter of his masterpiece Eugen Onegin here, while Nikolaj Gogol wrote the lion's share of Dead souls in Odessa. Anton Chekhov should also have spent half of his author salary on Odessa's famous ice cream. It is hard not to be fascinated by Odessa's rich history, which dates back to time as a Greek colony in antiquity via the Russian tsarism and to the later Soviet Union. The rich history is reflected in the city's architectural details – as eclectic as the population has ever been.

Today, the picture is different. "The Pearl of the Black Sea" has been channeled into a touristy, semi-globalized post-Soviet city with extravagant hotels and branded stores. Yet many of the buildings have hardly been refurbished since its former heyday. Despite their enigmatic and chess-driven charms, I quickly realize it's best to keep your eyes pinned on the ground, as the many holes in the street are so large that you can stumble and fall at any time. The tourist guides warn you against them, as they also alert you to questionable water quality and street crime.

Political film art as resistance struggle

Odessa is not far from Crimea and is just a little further from the Donbass, which is ravaged by an ongoing conflict between the pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian authorities. Donbass has not escaped its cleavage with violence: Four years ago, 46 ​​pro-Russian protesters were killed – overwhelmed by the vast majority of pro-Ukrainian attackers.

"A good Ukrainian should be Orthodox, straight and speak Ukrainian." Stephane Siohan

It should be unnecessary to note that this year's festival could hardly avoid the political circumstances: The main event of the festival was Sergei Loznitsas donbass, which depicts the heinous acts taking place in the city. Crimean filmmaker Oleg Sentsov's tragedy also hovers like a shadow over the immediate horizon. This pro-Ukrainian activist protesting against the Russian annexation was arrested by Russian government forces in 2014 and sentenced to 20 years in prison and then transferred to a penal colony in Siberia. Here, Sentsov declared a hunger strike in May this year, demanding that Russia release all Ukrainian political prisoners. Odessa International Film Festival enters the long line of film organizations that have demanded release, while Sentsov – is bedridden and unaware of the support he receives from the rest of the world. He is in a "disastrous state of health" and "near the end" according to the latest reports.

Attend Director Oleksandr Tetshynsky

It seems that Ukrainian filmmakers are in a situation where it is more important than ever to make strong, political films that resist the violent and aggressive policies that are being pursued. But some of these filmmakers risk their lives in the trial.

The French producer Stephane Siohan – who has lived in Ukraine for a few years – tells me that there has been a change in the Ukrainian film world in recent times. Ukrainian film emerged as early as the beginning of the 20th century, but played a parallel role in the periphery of Russian film production in the decades that followed. But “with the events of recent years, history has knocked on the door. People have started making movies again. They feel they have to, ”says Siohan.

Everyday realities in Ukraine

I have the impression that a new movie wave is in the pipeline after watching Delta by Oleksandr Tetshynsky – winner of the festival's national award. Tetshynsky, who previously co-directed the documentary All Things Ablaze – one of the most beautiful portraits of the Majdan protests and their violent turn in 2014 – this time has made a completely different movie. Delta is a nature documentary about life in the Danube Delta. The main character is the river itself – from late autumn to spring – while the stories of the various people who live along the banks of the river, become nothing but fleeting vignettes in the larger context. But it is a comfortless life. Delta shows farmers working on the harvest while petting about the last cigarettes, fishermen rowing in the cold in a race against time to catch as much fish as possible before the river freezes. We see foresters striving to get their timber fitted with inadequate equipment. As the temperature drops and falls, life gets harder and harder: It's hard to get fresh food – yes, even drinking water. People freeze and shiver. Tetshynsky's film can be said to share some commonalities with Loznitsa's films, although these are miles apart in terms of style.

Home Games Director Alisa Kovalenko

Alisa Kovalenko, a Ukrainian director I met in Odessa, told me that the state funding system has become more and more problematic in recent years – undoubtedly in response to political conditions. More and more attention is being paid to the patriotic films that are clearly favored, while films without such elements receive little attention. Tetsjynskijs Delta is definitely not patriotic. In fact, one could hardly imagine a more striking criticism of a homeland that has neither the energy nor the means to establish a basic social structure that can ensure a dignified life for those living on the outskirts.

In the last scenes from Tetshynsky's documentary, we see a reef, mercilessly trapped in a trap in the woods, trying desperately but in vain to get away. This scene sums up perfectly the life people live here: While the young have mostly succeeded in escaping to the big cities or abroad, those who have remained are living in the grace of nature with little else to rely on than their own powers and their faith and its rituals.

First Ukrainian LGBT movie

Kovalenko himself has directed the documentary Home Games – produced by Siohan. Only a few years after she graduated, the filmmaker found herself on the barricades in Majdan and in war-ravaged Eastern Ukraine, where she recorded this debut film. Home Games  – who also won the award for best European documentary during the festival – approaches everyday life in Ukraine from a slightly different angle. Instead of focusing on socio-political movements, the director focuses on individuals' intimate experiences, and instead of depicting the state in crisis, the film depicts everyday life in Ukraine, which in a gender-traditional society surprises where the director includes a lesbian couple with children. The 20-year-old Alina's dream is to play for the national team, but she struggles to free up time for training while trying to take care of her dysfunctional family.

"The Pearl of the Black Sea" has been channeled into a touristy, semi-globalized post-Soviet city
with extravagant hotels and branded stores.

Kovalenko expressed her interest in women's football in Ukraine in a television documentary, in which she found young working-class women across the country who, through football, found a way to get out of poverty. Home Games is a portrait of a remarkable young woman from the working class poor in an already poor society, but it is also one of the first LGBT films in Ukraine. The documentary feels refreshing in a country where women have been banned from playing football just a few months ago, for so-called "health reasons." In the Soviet Union, "male sport has been underpinned by strong propaganda," Kovalenko notes, "while the same ideology required women to give birth and cook borscht [a traditional beet soup]."

Although LGBT rights remain a sensitive issue in Ukraine, things are changing, Siohan notes.

“A good Ukrainian should be Orthodox, straight and speak Ukrainian. Today, society is beginning to accept diversity. For the third time in a row, the Pride parade has been conducted in Kiev without unfortunate incidents. Ukraine is not Russia – nor in this sense. "

For the two women, the condition to get out of misery and get life right is to leave behind traditions and create their own family – regardless of the conservative environment and the ineffective social system. Even in the accounts of a difficult Ukrainian life, it seems possible to find the way to a better future.
Poglajen is a regular film critic in Ny Tid, resident

You may also like