The winner of this year’s Louve D’Or award at the Festival Du Nouveau Cinéma, and also the official Ukrainian international film submission for this year’s Academy Awards, Valentyn Vasyanovych’s Atlantis has been garnering massive amount of acclaim and critical hype since its Venice Film Festival premiere last year. So what’s the big deal about this film? Set in a dystopia exactly five years from now, a war-torn Ukraine struggles to reform back to its normal state. With factories closing and traumatised soldiers seeking a purpose, the world seems to be coming to its very end. The film follows soldier Sergiy, an ex-militia who wanders about the barren landscapes of Ukraine, seeking for a little satisfaction in a place where everything seems dead. The film is as bleak as it sounds, where Vasyanovych never handholds the audience away from his desolate dystopia.
Atlantis captures a unique sense of anguish within the mise-en-scène. My favourite moment in the film involves a brawl during the announcement of a closure of a factory plant, where archival footage is screened on top of a wall in the background, as the workers of the factory duke out their struggles. Simple fragmented moments like these create an incredible atmosphere of despair. However, at times the film almost feels like a compilation of cool images set against a loose narrative that’s seeking deeper meaning. Atlantis is a glacially paced film about desperation that never fully comes together.
In all of its stunning visual imagery, the film only manages to briefly capture the emotional by-product of post-war anxiety. With the film highlighting essential themes regarding the grueling civilian and social effects of war, what the film ultimately needed on top of its already engaging thematic material is a more articulate focus. The derivative and aimless nature of the film becomes nauseating by the one hour mark, where the viewer’s entire perception of time and space itself is completely warped in the worst way possible. Without a single care in the world, it’s difficult to relate to Sergiy and his long journey of finding post-war identity.
Atlantis is a cruel warning for those who choose to ignore the drastic signs of fate during these strenuous politically charged times. A beautifully shot albeit meandering picture, the film is impeccably crafted and designed from a technical standpoint. Where its depicted future doesn’t seem all that far off from our current state, the film does provide some sort of glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel for additional reassurance. There’s still time to fix our mistakes. But will the rest of the population collaborate? Only time will tell. But if there’s any indication in regards to Vasyanovych’s Atlantis, paradise might just be out of our reach.
Dir: Valentyn Vasyanovych
Scr: Valentyn Vasyanovych
Cast: Andriy Rymaruk, Liudmyla Bileka, Vasyl Antoniak
DOP: Valentyn Vasyanovych
Run time: 109 minutes
Atlantis screened at this year’s Festival Du Nouveau Cinema as part of the International Competition program.