Art or Propaganda?: 'Volhynia' film: distressing to watch, but shouldn't be banned – review

18:21 Nov. 9, 2016

'Volhynia' film: distressing to watch, but shouldn't be banned – review

Cadre from the film 'Volhynia' (by

Ukrainian writer Andriy Lyubka reviewed controversial "Volhynia" movie by Wojciech Smarzowski on his blog on Kyivan 'Day' newspaper web-site

In Wroclaw, I went to cinema and watched "Volhynia" by Wojciech Smarzowski. Frankly speaking, I didn't even want to go, but still did – out of pure curiosity. For some might love this movie, and others might hate it, but it's bound to become a substantial topic in dialogue between Poland and Ukraine for long years to come. Or should we rather talk about deafness between Poland and Ukraine, if both sides fail to find the reasonable way out of today's crisis.

So, before the movie started, I noticed some observations of the audience gathering in the half-full cinema hall. Mainly they were elderly people; I could count young faces on one hand. Which means youngsters are not exactly interested in the subject of the movie. And that's the only piece of good news for today. As for the movie itself, it was complicated, dark, depressive, full of cruelty and malice.

Nevertheless, it was a feature film not a piece of propaganda. Some moments were exaggerated and hyperbolized, and – oddly enough – the most positive characters were Germans, I'd say. Ukrainians, Soviet Army and sometimes Poles themselves were portrayed as dark. Typical Smarzowski, though: naturalism and aggression in some of his works could sometimes compete with Tarantino's specific killer-style – and beat it. Consider "The Road Police", for instance – the movie in which policemen are pictured as total monsters, in comparison to whom serial killers would seem nice and gentle kids. Moreover, it's a movie about the Polish road police, mainly polite and non-corrupted. Long story short, if Smarzowski made the movie about a happy Christmas dinner set in the family circle, there would be more deaths in the movie, than people at the table. That's merely his artistic method, his own unique "signiture". No one can forbid the artist to see the world this way and no one can keep him from showing his vision.


Read also 'Moscow is happy': Polish civic leader on 'Volhynia' film

In one word, the movie is unpleasant to see for anyone regardless of their nationality – too many close-ups of atrocities, deaths, and suffering of innocent people. And it's likely it would be of no interest to anyone except the Poles – both the topic and the way the author depicts it are so "closed up" that the audience somewhere in Spain or Czech Republic won't even understand who is who and what's happening on the screen. However, Volhynian tragedy – or massacre, as Poles call it – is reality, so there is nothing surprising in the fact someone in Poland would still hurt over it. That's where emotional exaggerations, falling into extremes and unscrupulous presentation of historical material come from.

Despite all this, I don't think the film should be banned from viewing in Ukraine. On the contrary – maybe it's worth it – to hit the bottom of mutual accusations, to let steam off and slowly begin building a future free of reminiscences of historical traumas – both our peoples have had enough of those.


Read also Putin's proxies crush 14 Ukrainian memorials in Poland, Warsaw silent – UINM

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