Shot in austere long takes, this post-apocalyptic drama from Ukraine is a cautionary tale on both the psychological and ecological impact of war.
Dir. Valentyn Vasyanovych
2019 | Ukraine | Drama | 106 mins | Ukrainian & English
Not rated – likely to be R21 for sexual scene, nudity and disturbing images
Cast: Andriy Rymaruk, Liudmyla Bileka, Vasyl Antoniak
Plot: A soldier suffering from PTSD befriends a young volunteer hoping to restore peaceful energy to a war-torn society.
Awards: Won Best Film – Orrizonti (Venice)
International Sales: Best Friend Forever
Subject Matter: Slightly Heavy – Human Condition, Psychology
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex – Elliptical
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse
A directorial breakthrough for Ukrainian filmmaker Valentyn Vasyanovych, who is better known as the producer, cinematographer and editor of one of the most provocative films of the 2010s, The Tribe (2014), Atlantis takes some of the former’s strengths and repurposes them into a similarly austere and uncompromising film.
Winner of the top prize under the Orrizonti section of the Venice Film Festival, Atlantis chronicles the journey of Sergiy, an ex-soldier suffering from PTSD, who after losing his industrial job begins anew as a truck driver ferrying potable water to isolated groups of people exhuming corpses in a near apocalyptic wasteland.
It is a bleak film with images that may prove unforgettable. In fact, the entire film is composed of no more than 30 shots, all of which are rigourously-controlled long takes.
Some are quite astonishing to behold, but not every shot works, though when it does, there is some kind of raw, poetic power emanating from Vasyanovych’s approach. There is even an eye-popping long-take sex scene that would have been sensationalistic, but feels oddly earned.
As much as it is a cautionary tale on the devastating cost of war, Atlantis is ultimately a refreshing take on the need to find peace and salvage what is still possible amid the physical decay.
But where human psychology may triumph despite deeply-traumatised psyches (a point-of-view that Atlantis seems to adopt), ecological balance may not, which Vasyanovych takes pains to articulate as his country is currently forced to come to terms with environmental poisoning and polluted waters.