It takes one fateful evening to change the entire course of history for a village. Before July 17th, 2014 many had raised an eyebrow at the mere mention of the township of Hrabove. The community; a quiet area prominently residing a handful of farmers and multilingual speakers, was suddenly struck with the crash of the century. Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was discombobulated from its flight route, killing every passenger on board. In the great game of dodging accountability and securing any attempt at political amendment, many looked up at the sky for answers. 

Yet what was occurring on land was just as essential to the bigger conversation. 298 lifeless bodies spread across acres of war-consumed landmass created another form of systematic oppression. The plague in question is the enlightening core of Maryna Er Gorbach’s Klondike; a narrative prominently focusing on a resilient family and their coinciding clash with separatist violence. Through its command for the revitalisation and contextualisation of 21st-century Ukrainian history, Klondike relishes in the exhaustion of the human condition. Drenched in miserabilism and grueling realism, Gorbach’s film is a tasking cinematic affair. From the brutal killing of a cow to the on-screen suspense of an intense gun-wielding standoff, the film’s core portrait of survival is undeniably intense and often thrilling.

Still Courtesy – KEDR FILM

Nevertheless, these moments of emotional release are few and far between. Throughout the film’s languid dialogue on the spread of separatism and the dangers of radicalised ideology, Klondike finds rough footing in its depiction of humanity. For a film prominently indulged in the behavioural characteristics of survival, Klondike lacks an uncertain amount of compassion due to its scattershot framing of events and unfocused character motives. Subplots are the killer of Klondike’s languid saga of calamitous events. Needless threads convolute the simplistic pre-established structure, as beautifully composed images of communal decay carry the underdeveloped narrative. Gorbach has recreated an impressive apocalypse, adapted from the testimonies of a population displaced by facist authority. Yet the legacy and depiction of the aforementioned people are ultimately undermined within the context of the piece. 

As we look up into the distant night sky, the people of Hrabove still confront the atrocities of the past and the invasion of an unwanted force. Klondike’s restless opener and concluding gut-punch offer a glimmer of potential in contrast with its underwhelming second act. In its tapestry of aimless fragmented events, the film exudes various signals of promise. A promise for Maryna Er Gorbach’s to continue her career as a skilled filmmaker, a promise of hope for the people of Hrabove, and a promise for the viewer to never forget nor dismiss the Russian separatist violence which still plagues the Ukrainian populace to this day. 

Still Courtesy – KEDR FILM
Klondike premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival as part of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition category. The film is currently seeking international distribution.

By David Cuevas

David Cuevas is a writer, reporter, and the official festivals editor (US/Canada) for FilmHounds Magazine. In his spare time, you can find him watching a bunch of movies while contemplating on his own existence.