Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 14, 2020 7:53 am 
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Ravaged young war veteran winds up helping people bury their dead: a formal survey of the physical and human toll of post-war Ukraine

Dennis Harvey's Variety review ]says simply, "Its cryptic, rigorously minimalist progress will test the patience of many viewers and present a challenge for commercial placements." So that is Atlantis in a nutshell. It may seem more like serving a stint in the military than watching a movie. You do get more of a look than you've ever had before of forensic examinations of long-dead corpses. But that is repeated more often than necessary, unless you are going to work for a coroner. Nonetheless Atlantis, set in Eastern Ukraine in 2025, the tale of a young man who has been a solider in the war with Russia and slowly works his way back to something more like human life, and seems to succeed. The first time director who won first prize in the Horizons section at Venice this year with the film also succeeds in delivering a valid picture of the punishing series of steps that might be necessary for such a process as this. The punishment, for us, is mitigated after a while at least by appreciation of the formal elegance and control of the consistent sequence of horizontal compositions, with fixed camera positions.

When we meet Sergiy (Andriy Rymaruk) he's living in an isolated location with a war comrade and all they do in their spare time is target practice using big metal human targets. Their attempt at civilian life is very partial, consisting only of work at a steel mill about to be closed down. Such a clangorous environment isn't good for people with PTSD, and it takes a severe toll on Sergei's roommate.

Sergiy makes his way by accident to the forensic archaeology, as it might be called; a woman he works with turns out to have been an archaeology student, in fact. She considers this a logical continuation, archeology on ourselves. He has met her and gotten into this because he rescued her and her partner when their truck was stuck along the road as he was going on a long trek in a bigger truck.

In some of these scenes I felt I was in a Soviet social realist painting. The sense of focus on the function, not the individual, is intense.

One of the most memorable and unusual moments is the scene where Sergiy explores a cavernous building that leads to a room with a small piano. One assumes it may be where he used to live. It's all a wreck now, and yet, you wonder why he doesn't try to play the piano, which is more or less intact. Instead he quietly sets a Christ Crucified figure up on the piano top. While so many of the sequences seem more like demonstrations of equipment than experiences, this has the haunting quality of a ceremony and a dream.

As the Variety review says, most of this film is made up of "prolonged, stationary, symmetrically formal widescreen compositions of activity within various harsh vistas and decrepit interiors." This one departs from that. But toward the end, a relationship develops that shows Sergiy hasn't lost all ability to function as a human being. There's hope, for him. For the Ukraine territory where the fighting was, an expert assesses that it's uninhabitable - for decades, maybe hundreds of years. They won the war and destroyed the country. Win a few, lose a few. This film has not only a very distinctive vision and a unique experiential intensity but a compelling authenticity about it: the performers reportedly are all themselves Ukrainian war veterans.

Atlantis/Атлантида, 107 mins., debuted at Venice, winning best film in the Orizzonti section; numerous other nominatinons and awards; it has also shown in over two dozen other festivals including Toronto, Warsaw Hamburg, Tokyo, Vienna, Taipei, and in New Directors/New Films. As part of ND/NF in its delayed pandemic virtual form, Dec. 2021, it was viewed for this review. It is the 2021 Ukrainian entry in the Best International Feature Oscar competition.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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