Saturday, March 3, 2018

Bitter Harvest

Bitter Harvest; war drama, Canada, 2017; D: George Mendeluk, S: Max Irons, Samantha Barks, Tamer Hassan, Barry Pepper, Terence Stamp, Aneurin Barnard

Ukraine during the Bolshevik occupation. Yuri is a farm boy living in the countryside, in love with a girl called Natalka. Upon Bolshevik troops, led by fundamentalist Sergei, molesting a farmer and demanding his land due to collectivization, Yuri's father intervenes, but is hanged by the Bolsheviks. Yuri goes to Kiev to study painting, but feels suffocated by the Soviet directives that ban any individuality. In order to subjugate the rebellious Ukraine to Goreshist Russia, genocidaire Joseph Stalin orders a confiscation of all food from the farms, causing mass hunger that ends in Holodomor. Upon entering a bar fight, Yuri is sent to prison, but manages to escape and return to his village. In a raid by the Ukraine patriots, the Bolshevik dungeon is torched and Sergei killed. Yuri, Natalka and an orphaned boy escape from the Soviet dictatorship and flee West by jumping into a river.

A systematic policy of extermination of at least 2,700,000 people in Ukraine, Holodomor was at the time the worst genocide perpetrated in human history, taking a toll larger than some of the bloodiest wars ever seen and decimating the local populace. Despite such catastrophic plight, it was only rarely the topic in cinema, and one of the films that talked about it was George Mendeluk's "Bitter Harvest" that delivered a rather well made story. The storyline could have been better developed, with more inspiration or points prepared beforehand, yet it works thanks to great cinematography that looks very modern and great actors: excellent Tamer Hassan stands out the most as the sadistic Bolshevik villain, Sergei. Some insights into the relations of people at that time are a rare find, such as the scenes depicting Ukrainians rebelling, even organizing armed resistance to the Soviet yoke, though the scale of the mass deaths still does not to seem all-encompassing, except for a few exceptions (the Bolshevik soldiers taunting Ukrainians in a pub, stating that the starvation is "saving Soviet ammunition"; the Bolshevik raiding the farmers' homes, even stealing food from their cellars; Natalka suffering a miscarriage due to food shortage, etc). Mendeluk sometimes gives more weight to patriotism than to cinematic style, whereas there is not enough pathos, though "Harvest" is still a good film about integrity and the small people fighting against the oppression, that managed to avoid some bigger cliches when such topics are handled.


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