Review: Imaging the unimaginable in Klondike, the film, pitted by rupture and discord but engrossing viewing

Maryna Er Gorbach’s Klondike is screening online at the European Film Festival South Africa- hybrid festival – cinemas and online- from today October 13 to 23, 2022. Info here: Booking:

Klondike has been described as “harrowing” by many reviewers and I concur. It is utterly shattering to watch this film which is a howl of rage against war which leaves ordinary people reeling in its wake- and women in particular. The film, in the hands of Ukrainian writer-director Gorbach (although she is based in Turkey), is not easy to watch. Despite its horrific narrative, the cinematography is beautiful – widescreen shots of farmland landscape – bucolic and the domestic juxtaposed with the utter devastation of war and the impact on people. The cinematographer is Sviatoslav Bulakovskyi. Klondike premiered at the Sundance Film Festival [January 2022] and won the World Cinema Dramatic Competition for directing. It won second place in Panorama Audience Award category the Berlin International Film Festival.

The war in Ukraine as we see it playing out on our TV screens is not new. It has been an ongoing story for people in the region. The film is set against the backdrop of the 2014 shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, over Donbass and the igniting of ongoing conflict in the region. There was loss of life – 298 passengers and crew. In Klondike, the film, we see a farmhouse and the couple who live there Irka (Oxana Cherkashyna) her husband Tolik (Sergey Shadrin), as they sift through the rubble and contemplate the gaping hole in their living room. The heavily pregnant Irka lumbers around- trying to get on with her life – while the men around her argue and take sides. Irka milks the cow, Maya and pledges to remain at all costs in her home. I found the plot rather difficult to follow – the plane crash narrative and the political conniving and tensions.

The last twenty minutes or so of the film left me reeling. Plot spoiler: It does not end well. At the end, it is said that the film is dedicated to “women”. Oxana Cherkashyna is magnificent as Irka- lugging the load in her pregnant belly – trying to hug the earth and stay grounded. Klondike is a film pitted by rupture and discord – political, personal, marital, and communal. It is distressing to view as it images the unimaginable but it makes for engrossing viewing.

✳ Featured image supplied by European Film Festival (SA).