Since Alfred Machin shot ‘Maudite soit la guerre’ in 1914 to the present day, There have been thousands of films that have tried to convince the viewer of something that should not require many explanations: war is bad.. We have seen it from the point of view of the soldiers in the middle of the conflict, of the subsequent consequences, of the winners, of the losers, of the families, of the innocent victims. ‘Klondike’ gives us a different vision than what we are used to: far from the sad journeys into human misery of American cinema, this film it enters fully into the beginnings of the war in Ukraine, back in 2014, when the news was not yet open.
Long shots, short fuse
A house near the Russian-Ukrainian border is left without a living room wall due to a war accident. The couple that lives there will try to survive in a conflict that has caught them in the middle, without taking sides nor pretend anything more than to get ahead. The biggest problem with ‘Klondike’ is that, despite its magnificent premise, it doesn’t finish working sentimentally until the end: the sequences, long frayed shots, seem more focused on appearing artistic than on having a narrative intent.
That does not mean that the images obtained by Maryna Er Gorbach’s camera are negligible. Quite the opposite: Beneath the appearance of beautiful plains and rural landscapes hides the tension of a brewing war, the anguish of the mercenaries roaming freely and the doubt as to whether there will be a tomorrow. But the problem is that this has to be inferred by the viewer. Many of these long panoramas do not have a real reason for being and end up weighing down the tape by pretending to be something that it is not.
It is true that slow-burn construction never stops working and the characters do not end up acquiring their own entity during the first two acts of the film, but in its final stretch the relative stillness becomes a festival of agonizing moments and absolute tension in which humanity completely disappears. ‘Klondike’ becomes great in these scenes where death is one more day-to-day companiondramas are buried by barbarism and even hope is diluted under a gray sky that manages to hide it.
A room with a view
If something cannot be denied to ‘Klondike’ it is his ability to create iconic images: the house, with a hole in one wall, remaining standing against the attacks; the car, a tartana that crosses the dry carrales of the Ukraine; Irka feeding between rattles of pain… In the end, the director dedicates the film to women, and it is not for less: the tape diverts its gaze from the classic warlike male dilemma to focus on a pregnant woman who is left at the mercy of an unnecessary war that totally disrupts her life.
We never get to know all the characters well (in fact, many of them are barely introduced), but it only takes nuances to know who Irka is, a modern woman trapped in a rural world and condemned to live with someone who doesn’t respect her Not even in the middle of a war. She, played by a fantastic Oksana Cherkashyna, carries the entire film on her back, as exemplified in a very long and agonizing final shot that is, of course, one of the most impressive in recent years.
The warlike Ukraine presented to us by Er Gorbach is as beautiful as it is deadly: it has no soul, it exists by sheer inertia, like the characters in ‘Klondike’. The silences masked by a dry and tragic sense of humor, the looks that do not know what to do in the event of an unexpected war, the plains that hide shots, bombs, blood and death: if you expect the film to leave everything explicit and on a silver platter, you will probably end up disappointed.
Released at the right time
It was pure coincidence that Russia decided to invade the Ukraine a few months after the premiere of ‘Klondike’ at Sundance, but sheds new light on an extremely complex conflict from which we cannot draw any clear conclusions throughout the footage. The film does not intend to set a chair or explain the origin or solution of the conflict, but simply to tell its story: an agonizing and terrible one that it needs to be narrated so as not to forget that this is not a story of winners and losersbut one in which families and lives are at stake, where human cruelty becomes the true queen.
Resisting war is useless, the director seems to say, because when it breaks out, and no matter how much you pretend to live a normal existence (with football on TV, dinner parties, drunkenness and sexual relations), war will always be the backdrop in your life. You can turn a deaf ear, believe that it won’t happen to you, assume that not having one of the walls in your house is just something temporary. But war changes your life, and it’s never for the better.
‘Klondike’ exists through small quarrels, family humor details and couple’s fights, but becomes strong when evil in person enters the scene demanding blood, sacrifices and death of everything that is beautiful, from love to animals. And at the end, the large window that the protagonists want to make in their living room taking advantage of the bombardment it becomes a look at everything that they would never ever want to see, live and suffer. Because this film cannot offer solutions to war: it can only show its consequences. And the self-realization of the tape in this regard could not be more painful.