“It’s heartbreaking.” | Photo: Olha Zhurba

“My mother went out to smoke cigarettes 15 years ago”. A new one for someone else. Sasha is petite in that particular way that doesn’t last into adolescence, a thinness that involves ganglia. The American will arrive at noon and before that the camera is as restless as anyone else.

“The America where I will start a new life”. It is part of the text, the speech of gratitude. Repeated several times. “Do it properly.” “Don’t shame us.” What does Sasha want? A phone to answer. Someone to listen. A listener he will wait for, Sasha needs a willing audience before speaking.

Instead, we see. Volodymr Usuk’s camera is a prowling thing, informed with the same weariness and faded optimism as an auditorium seat. Harassed, bullied, harassed, harassed, retrieving the biscuit from the administrative office, everything is steeped in survival. The hinges creak. Sasha speaks without speaking. Don’t talk while talking. He has his speech, but he also knows a number.

Olha Zhurba’s film is rich in careful observation. He is unwavering in showing us young Sasha’s blink. What’s going on behind those eyes? Changing approaches. Cycling is a form of freedom. “Are you ready to go?” “Are you OK?” Who could be? Who is? Everywhere there is a sense of things not just hidden but covered up, of secrets, of things kept just out of reach.

It’s heartbreaking. There is always something melancholic in the bucolic, but the summer sun is rarely so dreary. Sasha’s speech is limited but it has a purpose. That his delivery is so often interrupted, interrupted, only adds to his impact. Jumping into the cooling lake is perhaps, for a moment, avoiding having to leave.

Just as SARS-Covid-19 has impacted festivals, cinema, the fact that this is set and shot in Ukraine will likely color the reception. I suspect, given the timelines, that the post-screening digital interview was recorded before the Russian invasion, but even without it, US adoption policy was complex. Even when the film ends it blurs the lines, the English credits discourse not only suggests parallel but overarching goals. In any circumstance, it is hoped that everyone involved is doing well, not just those created by these fact-based fictions.

In this pre-recorded Q&A at the 2022 Glasgow Short Film Festival, Zhurba revealed the film’s roots in a documentary project. With non-professional actors, there were elements of process, including rehearsal changes, creating something naturally naturalistic. There’s a line not quite early enough to count as the background whose delivery, reaction, colors the whole movie. Finding a meaning in the absence, in the silence, even in the difference between the first interaction, ratio, testifies here to the qualities of the construction. While Zhurba’s suggestions for the character of Ms. Carrie were interesting, there are few clues and less need in the film. After discussing the ending, she spoke of her intention to leave it open enough to interpretation, and giving “the viewers the freedom to come to their own conclusion” is a difficult task. A bravo too, a moment of beauty, of clarity, which invites you to read.

Reviewed on: March 27, 2022