Text by Nata Kendira
Edited by Darya Malyutina
The plot of the film takes you back to the beginning of the 1930s, the time of collectivization and building socialism in the Soviet Union.
An American engineer with his son comes to Kharkiv to build the first tractor. At the beginning of the film, by a turn of events, he is killed, and his little son escapes, unaware that in his bag he has an important letter the KGB wanted to destroy; and this is where the chase begins.
As the adventure of the little hero goes on, the film tightens its grip on the viewer. The movie can be praised for brilliant acting and emotional performances, stunning panoramic shots and scenes with views of the Dnipro river. Hollywood-style scenes seem to add up to the overall quality of the cinematography, and make the movie even more captivating.
The director, Oles Sanin, reveals a dreadful period in Ukrainian history when the Soviet regime was consolidating its power and destroying everything that could have endangered it. The Kobzars were one of the groups that became victims of the regime: these often blind Bandura players were proclaiming freedom and strong spirit of Ukrainians, and mocking the Soviet government in their songs. The director reveals the malicious methods of liquidation of the Kobzars in the Soviet Ukraine. This narrative intersects with the portrayal of Holodomor, a man-made famine that took place in the Ukrainian SSR in 1932-1933.
During a chat with the director, he described how he found the materials documenting this tragic period of the Ukrainian history by studying KGB archives and interviewing the surviving witnesses of the events. Sanin’s film refers to historical facts and documental evidence that had been hidden from public for a long time, and only relatively recently have become available. Arguably, this historic film is an eye-opener for not only for the Western audiences, but for many Ukrainians as well. On a more practical note, it is amazing how Oles Sanin managed to shoot a high quality film for some £1,200,000: this sum approximately amounts to the cost of a low-budget movie production, without decorations, costumes, or elaborate special effects.
Even though The Guide depicts a gloomy and dramatic period of Ukraine’s history, one could hardly find the movie too depressing – although, for sure, there are heartbreaking moments. Indeed, I wept from pain and horror realizing how people suffered from injustice, feeling sorrow and despair realising that nothing could be done; I also wept because I saw the brave unbroken spirit and courage during the whole film. However, the movie conveys a strong motivational message: amidst the tragic events unfolding on the screen, a powerful sense of human spirit and hope is entwined in the storyline. This makes the audience feel inspired by the perseverance of the main characters. Hopefully, The Guide also has enough power to explain to some extent why Ukrainians are so keen on fighting for their freedom and sovereignty.
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