SIFF 2022 Review: Klondike

Year: 2022

Runtime: 100 minutes

Director: Maryna Er Gorbach

Writer: Maryna Er Gorbach

Cast: Oksana Cherkashyna, Sergey Shadrin, Oleg Shcherbina, Oleg Shevchuk

By Joan Amenn

“Klondike” (2022) ends with a dedication to “women”, and it is important to realize that director Maryna Er Gorbach is addressing all women, regardless of nationality, religion, or ethnicity. This is a film about war which is indiscriminate in what it destroys and no one bears the terrible burden of that destruction more than the women of the world. As a Ukrainian filmmaker, Er Gorbach knows this better than many and her film is a call to the audience to focus on the horrors that her country has faced not just recently, but for years.

This is a film about war which is indiscriminate in what it destroys and no one bears the terrible burden of that destruction more than the women of the world.

Set in 2014, “Klondike” reminds us that war between Ukraine and Russia is not a current event. The eastern regions of Donetsk has seen significant clashes between the two countries with the area ultimately falling to Russian occupation where it remains to this day, but not peaceably. The story of married couple Irka (Oksana Cherkashyna) and Tolik (Sergey Shadrin) and their small farm represent the countless people who have experienced similar horrors since the beginning of the conflict that has devastated their rural community. Cherkashyna is the heart of the film and she is riveting. Although Irka is pregnant, she certainly does not have the luxury of easing up on her duties as a farmer. Indeed, the film makes it clear that this small plot belongs to her family not her husband’s, which is why it is understandable why she refuses to leave it, even with the threat of armed conflict encroaching.

In an almost absurd turn of events, a commercial plane from Malaysia was actually shot down in the Donetsk region in 2014 and the impact of the explosion rips away an entire wall of the little cottage that the couple live in. They joke with each other that it could be a good opportunity to rebuild and upgrade their home with a huge new window and new roof which considering real-life events, shows how dark humor is ingrained in the resilience of the people of Ukraine. However, there is only so much humor can do when destruction is literally raining down from overhead and Tolik is desperate to get his wife to safety.

Sergey Shadrin is outstanding as a man torn between his political sympathies and the practical realities of survival. He is friendly with locals who think that rejoining Russia would benefit them but his wife and her brother obviously do not share in his views. When Irka’s brother Yarik (Oleg Shcherbina) shows up on the farm and starts accusing Tolik of “separatist” activities, the stage is set for an inevitable conflict.

It is impossible not to be moved by one scene that shows a field of sunflowers with black body bags arranged between the rows of the tall stems

Maryna Er Gorbach wrote as well as directed “Klondike” and it is a beautifully shot, solidly scripted film. It is impossible not to be moved by one scene that shows a field of sunflowers with black body bags arranged between the rows of the tall stems. Er Gorbach has created a heartfelt and harrowing tribute to the many nameless victims of war and shows the senseless cruelty without sentimentality or bias. The last twenty minutes of “Klondike” may tempt the viewer to look away, but please don’t. This is when the director’s dedication of her film to women is most sincere and powerful. “Klondike” is a deeply truthful film about the human cost of war that resonates for generations.

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