Ukrainian cinema is on the rise, with a new wave of directors winning over critics, juries, and audiences at prestigious international festivals. Each of these award-winning films tells a unique story, but all have common themes: the struggle of single parenthood and family life, loneliness, or the country’s ongoing conflict. However different it might look for a Muslim Tatar father from Crimea or a mother of four in war-torn Donbas, the films portray the struggle of single parenthood. Yet each director also uses their unique vision to unflinchingly document the present— and imagine new possibilities for Ukraine’s post-war future.
Irina Tsilyk’s debut feature sees her travel to war-torn east Ukraine — not to document the armed conflict, but rather the life that goes on despite it. Borrowing its title from a poem by French poet and member of the French Resistance Paul Éluard, this meta-documentary is presented as “behind the scenes” footage for a film made by Myroslava, a local teenage girl. We watch the girl, her three siblings, and their resilient mother play music, watch films, celebrate birthdays, and worry over college admissions, all among the sound of gunfire in their shattered surroundings. Harrowing and tender, this female-centered story is a true celebration of human resilience, family bonds, and the power of cinema as a form of escapism.
In this road trip film, Antonio Lukich reinvents an almost-mainstream genre by centering the journey around two unlikely characters: a mother and her adult son. This equally moving and hilarious comedy-drama is both a tribute to the single mothers that have raised a generation of post-Soviet children, and a whimsical quest — the hunt for a rare bird whose song could land the protagonist a sound designer job in Canada. While the film’s references to David Lynch and Radiohead will be appreciated by hipsters all over the world, the singularity of My Thoughts Are Silent lies in its honest portrait of Ukraine through the eyes of its would-be emigre anti-hero.
The title of Valentyn Vasnyanovych’s film may honour the Ancient Greek myth about an ideal state, but on screen, Atlantis itself offers no peaceful utopia. Set in a fictional post-war Ukraine of the future, the film tells the story of Sergiy, a veteran who joins a team of volunteers grave diggers in a bid to soothe his own PTSD. Even the desolate landscape where he works soon becomes more than just a backdrop — as the film unravels both the personal and environmental consequences of the war.
Following a father and son on a journey to bury their brother and child, Homeward explores a deeply personal story in a complex cultural context. Director Nariman Aliev portrays a universally-relatable family relationship, and a subtle and informative insight into their culture as Crimean Tatars: a long-suffering ethnic and religious minority in the contested peninsula. Masterfully shot, this film is simultaneously telling and dialogue-sparse, as the characters switch between four different languages and the even most insignificant objects have a profound narrative purpose.