Ukrainian cinema, mysterious, ominous, and experimental, is a box of jewels that many film enthusiasts have never even heard of. If you haven’t seen any Ukrainian films, I assure you that you are missing out out on so much. From early experimental socialist cinema to contemporary fantasy and drama, Ukrainian cinema has it all. And here is my personal Top-5.
- Тіні Забутих Предків (eng. Shadows of the Forgotten Ancestors) / Parajanov / 1965
Filled with mystical and even, at times, uncanny scenes inspired by Ukrainian Carpathian Folklore, Shadows of the Forgotten Ancestors is a visually fascinating story of two young people, often referred to as the Carpathian Romeo and Juliette. Here powers of nature, magic, and rituals are woven into the fabric of everyday life. Created in the 60-s, this experimental film is a true masterpiece that beautifully narrates an ordinary tale through innovative approaches to camera work, composition, and sound design.
- A Man with a Movie Camera / Dziga Vetrov / 1929
One of the first Ukrainian films, A Man with a Movie Camera is an early creative experiment playing with montage, editing, and non-narrative modes of representation in cinema. Laying foundations to many of the approaches collectively accepted as tropes and staples today, this film pioneers creative filmmaking. It takes the viewer through urban cityscapes composed of collages, animations, slow-mo, and other cinematographic experiments. Film- scrapbook, A Man with a Movie Camera is a textbook for any aspiring filmmaker.
- Stranger / Tomashpolskiy / 2019
An acclaimed prize-winner Stranger is a visually mesmerizing sci-fi drama. A utopian diegetic reality astonishes with its attention to detail and overall aesthetics. If you are a fan of Shape of Water, or The Grand Budapest Hotel, I am certain, you will be indulging in the visual richness of this film. Not to mention an intriguing plot combining mystery, detective, and fantasy. A kaleidoscope of color and shapes, Stranger will make you sink into the world of colors and textures.
- Viy / Yershov & Kropachyov / 1967
If you are a fan of horror, this story, I promise, will keep you glued to the screen of your TV or laptop. A dead bride flying around in a corpse, monsters crawling out in a church, and Viy himself, a mysterious deity from the nether world – this film paints a vivid image of traditional Ukrainian beliefs and superstitions. Based on a literary work by Mykola Hohol’, the film opens a portal into the writer’s dark imagination, nightmares, and fever dreams. No wonder that even after his death, Hohol’s ominous figure generates a plethora of blood-chilling rumors, like, for instance, that he had been buried alive.
5. Земля (eng. Land) / Dovzhenko / 1930
This film is an acclaimed masterpiece often making lists like the 10 most influential films of All Times. Dovzhenko’s work depicts collectivization in the Ukrainian village, a process of expropriating land from wealthy peasants and joining it into self-sustaining agricultural clusters as prescribed by socialist economic system. Tackling the intergenerational conflict, Dovzhenko manages to portray how ideologies divided not only countries but villages and even families. A beautiful but tragic piece, Zemlya will captivate you with its drama and beautiful silent cinematography.
And finally, as a little sneak peek I suggest you watch my little fan video with some infographics and exerts from Ukrainian films (you will need to download it because the web distorts clips with square aspect ratio):