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The Best Films of Ukrainian Cinema

Ukrainian cinema yields some of the greatest cinematic achievements ever put to film, a few of which are taught at virtually every single film school on the planet. Before we begin, it is important to note that this is not a Ukrainian website, and although we have thoroughly studied Ukrainian cinema, nobody has a better understanding of Ukraine's best films than those who live there. The purpose of this article is to hopefully spread the powerfully deep and often insightful art that is Ukrainian cinema. All film titles have been translated to English. At the bottom of this list are links with information on what you can do to help the country's current situation. Дякую!

Man With a Movie Camera (1929)

Man With a Movie Camera might be the most iconic film to come out of the Ukraine, completely revolutionizing how documentary films were made for almost a century. This experimental silent documentary was directed by Dziga Vertov, whose name is a play on the Ukrainian words for "Spinning Top". Following a cameraman traveling around an industrialized Kiev, Kharkov, Moscow and Odessa, documenting urban life with dazzling intervention. Every frame of the film is artful, exciting and most importantly innovative. Exhibiting cinematic techniques Dziga Vertov invented, employed or developed, such as: multiple exposure, fast motion, slow motion, Dutch angles, extreme close-ups, tracking shots, reversed footage, stop motion animations, self-reflexive visuals, freeze frames, match cuts, jump cuts, split screens, among many others. What results is a visually stunning piece of cinema, one which is taught in every film school operating today.

The Tribe (2014)

The Tribe was written and directed by Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi and is incredibly notable as the entire film is in Ukrainian Sign Language with zero accompanying subtitles. The film follows Sergey, a deaf & mute boy who joins a specialized boarding school for deaf students. Sergey finds himself navigating the school's rough system, dealing with extensive crimes throughout the network, known as The Tribe. Sergey rises the ranks of The Tribe after committing multiple crimes, propelling him higher into the organization. He crosses a dangerous line when he falls for one of the girls to whom he's assigned to pimp, and in the process breaks every unwritten rule of his newly joined organization. The film became the very first Ukrainian film to be theatrically released in many countries. The film was widely acclaimed by critics, receiving vast praise upon its release, currently sitting at 88% on Rotten Tomatoes. The film is a powerful propellant of Ukrainian cinema, and proves how much you can say, with nothing at all.

Atlantis (2019)

Released ninety years after Man With a Movie Camera (1929), Atlantis is set in 2025 Eastern Ukraine, following Sergiy, who is a former soldier having trouble adapting to his new reality while suffering from PTSD. He befriends Katya, a young volunteer while she's on a humanitarian mission dedicated to exhuming the past and healing a war-torn society. Atlantis was Ukraine's official selection for the 93rd Academy Awards, although it unfortunately did not make the foreign film shortlist. Told in just a few long shots, we see the post-apocalyptic future director Valentyn Vasyanovych imagines, with a very warm red thermographic mood such as that from the film's poster. None of the roles in this movie were played by professional actors, but instead by veterans, volunteers, and soldiers, which adds to the film's importance and authenticity.

Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965)

Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors is a timeless Carpathian story. Ivan is deeply in love with his long-time crush, Marichka. The two of them, who live next door to one another, have formed an inseparable bond over many years, despite their families being deeply divided by a major issue: her father murdered his father. Ivan intends to marry Marichka, but he is forced to leave their town to earn a decent wage. Once he departs, he endures a series of hurdles and tragedies that complicates the impending union, only to return to further tragedy. Director Sergei Parajanov based the film on the novel "Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors" by Ukrainian writer Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky, with a structure and style very reminiscent of many romantic tragedies we know and love.

Earth (1930)

Few films represent the scenic beauty of their landscape as well as Earth does. The film's Ukrainian title Zemlya or Zemlia translates to Earth or Soil as it was originally titled upon its American release. This impressionistic silent film follows Vassily, a rural farmer who comes into conflict while opposing the rich Kulaks over the rise of collective farming. The film strongly depicts the deep connection these farmers have to their land, work and lifestyle. Earth was voted to be one of the twelve most exceptional films of all time at the 1958 Brussels World's Fair by 117 film historians. The original negative of the film was destroyed by a Nazi air raid in Kiev, a devastating loss for artifacts of early cinema.

The Long Farewell (1987)

The Long Farewell was directed by Kira Muratova and was filmed in 1971 but sealed away and only released into theaters sixteen years later in 1987. The plot is a deeply human narrative following a single woman who has put all her efforts into raising her only son, Sasha. When Sasha grows up to become a teenager, she thinks that she can have some time for herself, so she responds to the courtship of Nikolai Sergeyevich. One summer, Sasha goes to visit his real father in Novosibirsk, on the other side of the country. When he returns, his mother notices that Sasha has changed. She secretly reads a letter sent to Sasha from his father and finds out that Sasha doesn't want to live with her any longer. She doesn't have enough wisdom to understand this desire on someone else's part. Sasha is shown to have a more delicate and understanding nature than his mother, for when he realizes that she is suffering because of his wish to leave, he rethinks his decision.

How to Help Ukraine.

As Promised, here are some links to how you can help Ukraine in their current situation. All of these options are trustworthy from our research, but you should always research the legitimacy of charities to make sure your aid reaches the proper people/places. Thank you! - International Rescue Committee


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