Valentyn Vasyanovych knows how to frame and hold an image. This slow and poignant exploration of the aftermath of war is like a series of tableau, stitched together to create a compelling and rigorous story.
It takes a while to discover the narrative. The opening scene is of a heat sensitive camera watching from above as a grave is dug and a body buried. The colours are fluorescent, like something warm and exotic in contrast to the reality of what we are seeing. It is Ukraine in 2025, after a war with Russia has been won. Two ex-soldiers, Sergiy (Andriy Rymaruk) and Ivan (Vasyl Antoniak) practice shooting at a home-made range, their exuberance verging on hysteria so it is no surprise to find they both suffer significant psychological damage from their experiences.
The steel factory where they work is to be closed and each man makes a different choice for their future. Sergiy heads off on a new job, delivering water across a blighted landscape that is so damaged, there is no life left there. Along the way he meets Katya (Liudmyla Bileka), a volunteer working to find the many bodies buried in shallow graves across the war zone.
As far as plot goes, that’s pretty much it, although there is a scene toward the end that makes the long, slow and bleak beauty of the journey very much worthwhile. Vasyanovych has used, apparently, only 28 shots in this film and, for the first hour, the camera never moves. The result is like a quiet meditation on each scene. There might be minimal action but we are just as likely to have the protagonists leave the scene as we remain, watching giant machinery roll by, dwarfing the humans that toil to build a civilisation. Some of the visual imagery is stunning, especially when overlaid by diegetic noise; Ivan working in the steel mill, silhouetted against the vivid orange of the smelter, Sergiy ironing his frozen clothes.
The message behind the narrative is a small one and, for a while I felt that it was another film about men and their anger. You need to stick with it until the end to see what it is really about and the last 15 minutes are exquisite.
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.