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ODESA 2019

Review: U311 Cherkasy

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- Shown in the National Competition at Odesa, Tymur Yashchenko’s feature debut swaps heroes for human beings

Review: U311 Cherkasy

“I don’t see any heroes here!” yells out a commander in Tymur Yashchenko’s feature debut, U311 Cherkasy [+see also:
interview: Tymur Yashchenko
film profile
]
, which recently celebrated its world premiere in the Odesa International Film Festival’s National Competition, and chances are, you won’t either – just a bunch of young men trying to persevere through the bouts of seasickness and the irresistible urge to rough somebody up once they feel a bit better. Which is rather surprising, given that it’s actually based on the true story of a mine-sweeping trawler once described by Reuters as “Ukraine’s last Crimean ship”, seized by Russian forces in 2014 after defending itself for almost three weeks.

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But U311 Cherkasy doesn’t really settle for the heart-warming “hurrah” brand of patriotism, that infallible chicken soup for the nationalistic soul, instead starting in 2013 with snapshots of a simple, if still rather difficult, life – soon to be simple no more. This is something that Yashchenko probably knows only too well, having been born in the city of Cherkasy himself and having previously explored a similar universe in his Polish-produced short Lew. And so we see a man making weighty declarations for a guy sporting ungentlemanly scratches, in all likelihood courtesy of a girl unimpressed with his pick-up routine, already drunk out of his mind in the first scene and soon heading out to sea like many others because, really, what’s the alternative? “Are you familiar with the engines?” “I fixed a tractor once,” goes a delightful rapid-fire exchange early on in the film. That’s the spirit.

And so it goes on, as every time sentimentality or pathos rear their annoying heads, they are quickly beaten into submission – a bit like some of these unfortunate fellows, learning to play by the rules – with even celebratory flag-raising offset by the guys wondering loudly what to eat. In his interview with Cineuropa, it’s his returning co-writer Robert Kwilman whom the Ukrainian director credits with the ability to tone him down, and if that’s the case, their ongoing collaboration might be the film’s single strongest suit. This is because the story is really at its best right there at the very beginning, slowly giving more emphasis to the echoes of political turmoil previously glimpsed on the TV screen while flicking between channels, or mentioned by superiors who stress things such as: “All of this civil unrest in Kyiv has nothing to do with us as a crew of the Ukrainian navy.”

It’s through these scenes that Yashchenko seems to imply that he might have a future as the actors’ director, as the performances he gets are authentic without being boring, easily adapting to the change in tone when the going gets tough. And while there is no escaping some clunky scenes once a clear stand needs to be made, it’s a convincing little violent reality he builds here, with its odd traditions and brutal hazing rituals, talks about Maidan in a strip club, and one of the best “This. Is. Spartaaa!” references this writer has seen in a while. The subject matter alone might render U311 Cherkasy more urgent within the local market, but it’s this no-nonsense approach that could push it well outside of its borders. “Veni, vidi, vici, for fuck’s sake,” mutters someone in the film, and frankly, he might have a point.

U311 Cherkasy was produced by Marta Łotysz and Iryna Klymenko for Ukraine’s MKK Film Service and Inter Media. The sales are handled by MKK Film Service.

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