Category Archives: Imaginary Ukrainian Cinema

#212 – Bip

(2008, Ukr, 108 min) Dir Viktor Sadovska. Cast Viktor Nemets, Aleksey Vertkov, Boris Kamorzin.

A terrible storm has swept through the fictional Ukrainian city of Meiz and among the many catastrophe it unleashed was the releasing of many of the animals from the zoo including their celebrity Bengal tiger cub, Bip. Hearing of this an idea occurs to hard up young men Petro and Arseniy – if they can somehow trap young Bip they can sell him to Volo, local drug dealer and fan of all things tigerish. So Petro and Arseniy head off into the forests above the city on a tip-off, determined to find their prey. Bip is a comedy as best described by late film critic Harrison Bird: “there is a certain type of black comedy that I have seen from Eastern Europe and South America that is often mistaken by critics as drama, where the humour is derived from a starting point where everything is awful and getting, from there, progressively worse.” At least Bip has a happy ending of sorts. Once they have tracked down their prey, Petro and Arseniy have endured so much misfortune that they decide to shoot Bip and hope that Volo will make do with a stuffed version of the animal. They are at the border of the plains beyond the forest with the sun dipping behind the far horizon and the sky streaked with red. Petro raises his rifle and takes aim at the beast, only to be shot himself with the tranquilising dart of the zoo keeper, also on the animal’s trail. The film ends as quickly as that too – Petro is shot, collapses and the tiger cub melts into the long grass, disappearing back into the wild as the camera lifts off into the crimson sky and away.

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#13 – Baba Yaga

(1957, Ukr, 70 min) Dir Alexander Illienko.

Fantastic mix of colourful live action and stop motion. Young Fadar (a live action boy) is left in the woods by his mother and when he wakes in the night is approached by the stop motion Baba Yaga, first seen by him emerging from the dark of the woods and stepping into the moonlight like a raw ingot of silver. It is one of the great introductions in cinema and that it is of a wood carved old woman makes it all the more impressive. The remainder of the film sees the young boy having adventures with the witch Yaga, taking to the sky by pestle and mortar to spread good or ill-will as the fancy takes her. Everything is perfect – the cinematography, the tone of the script, the eerie soundtrack. Illienko seemed from this, his first feature, to be a considerable future talent both in animation and live action but following his defection to the West three years following Baba Yaga’s release he made only two more films before his death in 1977, both produced in straightened circumstances. At least there is this, his incandescent Baba Yaga, to treasure.

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