Review by Sean Boelman
Every year, there is at least one submission for Best International Film that is definitely too weird to be recognized, but its ambition and originality deserve attention nevertheless. Ukraine’s entry, Atlantis, fits that bill this year, offering an intriguing and visually striking look at dystopia that is sure to be divisive.
The movie takes place in a post-war Ukraine in 2025 and follows a former soldier with PTSD who tries to reconnect with society as he exhumes war corpses. In terms of near-future dystopias, the film doesn’t reinvent the wheel, dealing largely in mundanities and repetitiveness, but filmmaker Valentyn Vasyanovych’s gentle hand is what really guides it into success.
Apart from a few big scenes, the movie is mostly very quiet, emphasizing the emotion of the smaller beats. The film starts with one of those more exaggerated moments, hooking the viewer into this uncanny world, before showing that it is not the more visible things that are most disturbing, but the intangible ones.
Admittedly, the script does try to bite off a bit more than it can chew in a thematic sense. Vasyanovych’s targets include war and capitalism, and while the points he makes are all interesting, trying to say everything all at once forces him to abandon subtlety at times, using some of the more tried-and-true metaphors.
That said, Vasyanovych is by no means forceful with his movie. The character development is very deliberate in a way that is really humanizing. When dealing with a topic as tricky as PTSD, it is easy to get swept away in the melodrama of the situation, but Vasyanovych does a great job with this main arc.
Andriy Rymaruk’s nuanced lead performance also helps the film to connect. Although there are a few good supporting turns, this is mostly his show, and the best moments are those which are meditative, allowing his expressions to do the talking. It’s shocking that this is Rymaruk’s first debut, because his performance feels more like one that would come from a more seasoned performer.
The movie is perhaps strongest on a visual level. Vasyanovych does some really interesting things with the cinematography, such as shooting certain sequences in infrared, and they pay off. However, down to the way in which he uses the desolate landscape, Vasyanovych has created a truly atmospheric film.
Atlantis will certainly put some viewers off with its somewhat abstract and purposefully monotonous nature, but the artistry on display here is obvious. This is definitely one of the more distinctive Oscar submissions in play this year.’
Atlantis streams in virtual cinemas beginning January 22. Tickets can be purchased here.