Set in 1930s Ukraine, as Stalin advances the ambitions of communists in the Kremlin, young artist Yuri battles to save his lover Natalka from the Holodomor, the death-by-starvation program that ultimately killed millions of Ukrainians.
Set between the two World Wars and based on true historical events, BITTER HARVEST conveys the untold story of the Holodomor, the genocidal famine engineered by the tyrant Joseph Stalin. The film displays a powerful tale of love, honour, rebellion and survival at a time when Ukraine was forced to adjust to the horrifying territorial ambitions of the burgeoning Soviet Union. With an exceptional cast of established and rising stars, the film epically recreates one of the most dramatic and dangerous episodes in the history of 20th Century Europe.
1930's Ukraine. Genocide through starvation. It was never going to be a pleasant story. It's tough to make a film out of something so one sided and something so horrific. And at times its difficult to sit through. Yes it's violent but we don't see a lot of it up close. It's not gratuitous. It's already dire enough. Yet there's plenty to be depressed about.
The story itself is quite good. Following the journey of one character so we get an overview of what happened in varying parts of Ukraine during this time. And yet it's a stretch. Certain scenarios are just asking us to suspend belief a little too far. Our central figures should have been killed several times over. Knowing this is set within real events (though not of these characters) keeps us involved. But only just.
The problem is with the director. The early scenes are so over-lit it makes you feel like you're watching a Disney TV play. The clichés come thick and fast through the staging and unfortunately some of the dialog too. The direction is heavy handed, falling back on triteness such as blood dripping from a sword stuck in the ground and other lame symbolism.
It's all a bit overblown. The cinematography, the music. They wanted to make a real epic here but even at 100 minutes, it feels overlong and over-baked.
It's horrific to be certain and I wanted to care more but the central story just doesn't grab us the way it should. Terence Stamp adds an element of acting class. Shame that it can't be said for the rest of the cast. For example, Stalin is a caricature. Hours after seeing it, I'm already beginning to forget it. And that's not a bad thing.
An event this huge deserves so much more.
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