“Bitter Harvest”, from German director George Mendeluk, does seem at first like a stock “conservative” film, out to prove that communist Stalin (Gary Oliver) was every bit as much a monster as Hitler. The film depicts a historical fiction (story by Richard Bachynsky Hoover) escape by a likeable artist Yuri (Max Irons), protecting his family, literally swimming underwater a border river into Poland, from the Ukraine in 1933, to escape the Soviet-Ukraine Holodomor.
On a certain moral level, the film is timely given today’s controversy over illegal border crossings and asylum. It also seems reflectively pertinent given Valdimir Putin’s preoccupation with nationalistic expansion into Ukraine in the past two years.
As the film opens, Yuri gives a little history, about how the Bolshevist revolution had at first freed Ukraine peasants from the czars, only to be undone with the Soviet Union and with Stalin’s plans to expropriate land and agricultural output from the farmers (apparently temporarily in private hands, giving them freedom) to feed factory workers. The film depicts Soviet soldiers storming into farms, seizing lands and demanding, at gunpoint, that farmers join collectives.
Yuri escapes, so to speak, to Kiev to go to art school, where his work is soon criticized for not being politically correct enough. (This is what happened to composer Dmitri Shostakovich for a while.) There are some lines about whether artists view themselves as elite and privileged about the mores of ordinary proles.
At this point, let me say the script is often a bit corny (it may be translated for English), but the political carnage becomes more believable and compelling as the film progresses. Yui winds up in jail, but uses his artistic (and hand-to-hand combat) talents to escape prison and get back home to help the family escape the famine.
I can relate the ferocity of the extreme left from some personal experiences back in 1972, when a radical meeting expressed the need to eliminate all inherited wealth (which is how the commies seized land). Yuri has no real moral dilemma (as would I) over whether to join a counter mass-movement. But it’s ironic that Ukraine’s own movement is also communist, but somehow “fairer”.
The early scenes in the film (shot in flat areas in Ukraine) look rustic, with people living simple lives without electricity (there are a few cars).
Ukraine landscape similar to film (Wikipedia).
|Director, writer:||George Mendeluk|
|When and how viewed:||Regal Ballston Common, 2017/3/7, afternoon, small audience|
(Posted: Monday, March 6, 2017 at 8:30 PM EST)