Streaming as part of EDFILMFEST AT HOME brought to you by EIFF and Curzon Home Cinema (CHC)
This 2018 film from Ukrainian documentary maker and director Roman Bondarchuk is set on a bleak area of his homeland and is based on a variety of real events. Apart from the three principal actors, the rest of the cast mostly comprises locals, giving an authenticity to this film that sits somewhere between a documentary and a fantasy.
Following the stunning opening shot of what at first looks like a puddle with heavy raindrops landing on it, after which the aerial shot shows the brow of an industrial vessel slowly hove into view that eventually takes the form of a red Rothko painting as it proceeds almost imperceptibly to the sounds of a plaintive chorus.
There is an undulating desolation in the bleak and desiccated landscape where fields of black sunflowers stand like doom ridden sentinels hiding a real random military presence and every road looks pitted. It is here that a car containing four delegates on a mission to the Crimean border from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) breaks down at a petrol station that holds an air of abandonment that is disabused when an attendant appears from a nearby cabin. Lukas, the group’s translator, played by Michael York lookalike Serhiy Stepansky, is sent to find help but when he returns, in a truck driven by Vova (Victor Zhdanov) and his daughter Marushka (Khrystyna Deilyk) he finds his colleagues and the car gone. What follows is a series of bizarre and sometimes very violent encounters as Lukas tries to trace and reconnect with his albeit less than pleasant colleagues.
Bondarchuk has highlit a corner of the world where people live on the very fringes of society. Normal rules don’t apply and corruption reigns. It is, in Vovo’s words “…total anarchy”. Vovo sports a tattoo of the Statue of Liberty but despite his anarchic ways is still henpecked by his old Ma, who kind of sums things up when she says, “We lead another life here.”
The title Volcano seems unrelated to a film that features water or the lack of it but its esoteric quality lies in Bondarchuk’s words in an interview about the film “I like the duality of this term: there is something in the air, a tension and a volcano, just about to erupt.” And it is that tension and uncertainty that pervades the whole film seen through the eyes of the unfortunate Lukas.
Lukas moves though it seemingly impassively like a casual observer in someone else’s life. At the total mercy of whoever he meets of this woebegotten place, he is robbed, beaten up, abandoned in a hole yet remains weirdly emotionless. Despite his taciturn manner and neutral expression, he is subtly yet very really despised locally, his resented city ways evident in ways he seems unaware of. Only during a town hall gathering to fundraise for flak jackets for new army recruits, when a strong man does a turn with a power drill in a scene that could be Ukraine’s Got Talent, does he actually smile.
The lands of the film’s location had taken by reservoir, hence its awful aridity, and a further spectacular shot of Lukas and Vovo swimming underwater with the treasured metal detector fabulously shows the submerged houses of a former village, helping to lift the film from complete desolation.
Volcano is billed as a surreal black comedy and it certainly is populated by strange and seemingly inexplicable events but comedy is not a word that springs to mind. Bleak would be a better word.