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BLACK NIGHTS 2018 First Feature Competition

Review: The Wild Fields


- Young Ukrainian filmmaker Yaroslav Lodygin's ambitious first feature is an uneven but impressive adaptation of a famous novel by co-screenwriter Serhiy Zhadan

Review: The Wild Fields
Georgiy Povolotskiy in The Wild Fields

Ukrainian author Serhiy Zhadan's 2010 novel Voroshilovgrad was a milestone in the country's contemporary literature, and young filmmaker Yaroslav Lodygin was inspired to adapt it for the big screen as soon as it was out. It took seven years of development and production, with the original novelist on board as one of the co-screenwriters, together with the director and Natalia Vorozhbyt. Now the resulting film, entitled The Wild Fields [+see also:
film profile
, has had its international premiere in Tallinn Black Nights' First Feature Competition. It is an uneven but nevertheless impressive movie that provides an amusing, though often meandering, insight into the region of northern Donbass several years prior to the currently escalating conflict. 

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Herman (a very charismatic Oleg Moskalenko) has to return from Harkov to his hometown, as his brother has abandoned the family business, a petrol station, and gone to Amsterdam or Berlin – at least this is what the station attendant, Kocha, tells him on the phone. Although as an "independent expert fighting the enemies of democracy" he is doing a useless job, our protagonist believes he will be able to fix the situation quickly and return to Harkov the next day. But, of course, this will not be the case, as a cross-border gang led by the mysterious Russian Pastushok and represented by his clumsy henchman Nikolay want to get their hands on the station. 

As Herman arrives, we meet his childhood friends and new acquaintances, whom he describes via a straightforward voice-over narration. In addition to Kocha, a "bad example" who keeps popping sleeping pills that he claims do not work, there is Shura Trauma, once the best football striker in the region, and now the best car mechanic.

Our hero gets embroiled in various adventures, including two revolving around romantic interests – his brother's accountant, Olya, and the probably underage Katya, who flashes her boobs at him when they first meet. In the first half of the film, the storytelling is pretty straightforward, but as Lodygin decides to introduce more and more colourful, but often one-dimensional, characters and bizarre situations (such as a Shtundist funeral, or the shooting of a goat on Pastushok's private train), the narrative starts meandering to the point where we are no longer sure if Herman is still the main protagonist.

The Wild Fields is clearly a case of an overambitious first feature, but it certainly deserves a watch, and the filmmaker deserves respect for his guts and persistence in executing his vision. The luxurious widescreen cinematography by Serhiy Mykhalchuk is excellently, if somewhat obviously, complemented by Fima Chupakhin's multi-genre score, from country rock in the opening sequence showing the beauty of the Donbass landscape, through ironically Morricone-tinged tones when one of many possible duels is about to take place, to a jazzy snippet as Herman flirts with Katya. Denis Zaharov's snappy editing along with frequent close-ups at the dramatic points of the story and the "Wild East" setting undeniably hark back to spaghetti westerns. 

The movie is also a reminder of how history seems to be accelerating in the 21st century. Voroshilovgrad was published in 2010, and the titular city has been called Luhansk since 1990, which is a name that anyone watching the news will now be familiar with, for reasons that certainly stem from many of the elements that Zhadan described in his book.

The Wild Fields is a co-production by Ukraine's Limelite and Switzerland's Film Brut.

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