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When Trees Fall (Koly Padayut Dereva)

The colour of my female dreams! Ukrainian film by first-time female director is visually exquisite and sophisticated, despite a very commonplace script - from the Berlinale


Larysa (Anastasia Putovit) is young, good-looking and intoxicated with sexual desire. When Trees Fall opens with a fairy tale sequence in which Larysa makes passionate love to her handsome criminal boyfriend Scar (Maksym Samchyk) on the boggy swamp, complete with fog and thick mud where the two lovers revel and roll naked. For some reason, her little sister Vitka is nearby.

It’s never entirely clear whether the action took place or it was just a dream. One way or the other, Larysa in woken by her formidable grandmother spraying her with a hose. She’s then reprimanded for having spent time with Scar, whose prison stints are well known in the village. The grandmother often abuses the two females, locking Larysa in a room and calling her a “slut”, and often referring to the little girl as “wicked child”. There’s nothing maternal and babooshka-like about her. Larysa’s mother is equally unloving and crude. Plus there is enormous social pressure for her to marry a man whom she doesn’t love, but could offer her stability.

The little Vitka is no stranger to dreaming her life. away She often imagines a white horse and giant vegetables in some fantasy land, when the images suddenly become grainy and low contrast. The first-time director Marysia Nikitiuk is extremely dexterous with the camera and the lenses used. The images are never tacky and boring. In reality, they are genuinely impressive for someone so early in their film career. The idyllic settings of rural and impoverished Ukraine are also intense and dramatic. The colours are sharp and vivid. There’s a very Slavonic touch to the photography, and it reminded me a lot of masters such as Tarkovsky, Zvyagentsev, Sokurov and her countryman Sergei Loznitza. Except for the last sequence of film, which was a little too extravagant for my taste.

On the other hand, the film script is not as sophisticated. The topic of being in love with a wrongdoer and having to marry someone else is hardly original, and the director hardly aggregates anything new to it. The topics of masculinity and violence are also present in the movie, but they are not developed in too much depth. Overall, this is still a movie worth seeing for the impressive visuals. And Nikitiuk is a name to keep an eye on!

When Trees Fall is showing as part of the Panorama section of the 68th Berlin International Film Festival, which is taking place right now.

By Victor Fraga - 21-02-2018

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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