Review by Sean Boelman
It can be a difficult line to toy when a film takes a devastation real-life event and uses it as the background for a movie that explores its greater context. With Klondike, Marynaa Er Gorbach does so wonderfully, using tragedy to spin a crushing tale of loss and struggle in a time of international crisis.
The film follows a family living near the border of Russia and Ukraine as the threat of armed conflict draws ever nearer and the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 incident happens in their village. Although the focus of the movie is more on the conflict that caused the incident and the toll that this hostility takes on this family, using this catastrophe as an adjacent plot point taps into viewers’ memories to create an affecting mood.
This is a slow drama, lingering on the ways in which this family’s life is slowly falling apart, but it’s a ticking time bomb. It’s clear that it is only a matter of time before everything explodes, yet even though you know what is coming, it’s still horribly depressing when it does actually happen. This isn’t the type of film that leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy inside.
However, the movie does struggle with being slightly vague in terms of what it wants to say. It’s clearly exploring how the characters are torn between what they believe in politically and what they have to do for their own safety, and the film does deserve points for not being heavy-handed with it. Still, the occasional meandering does cause Gorbach’s script to lose track of what it is trying to do at times.
The way in which these characters are written is very precise and does an excellent job of getting the audience to connect with their story. The first scene of the movie is one of the most effective and impactful, and immediately gets us invested. And even though what we are watching may seem mundane, it still resonates quite deeply.
Oxana Cherkashyna’s performance will go down as one of the most impressive of the festival. What she is able to accomplish from an emotional standpoint using only the most basic of mannerisms is thoroughly impressive. And the final moments of the film are just haunting, largely thanks to what she does with the role.
This is a very bleak movie, both visually and formally, but Gorbach does so in a way that is not oppressive. There are lots of wide shots of wreckage and devastating destruction, juxtaposed against close shots of these people trying to hold onto one another. It’s hard to call something so centered tragedy gorgeous, but that is what Gorbach has done.
Klondike is perhaps a bit too thin, but it will have a profound, lasting impact on the viewer despite its simplicity. It starts off with a bang before drawing you in and slowly sucking your soul out in a harrowing finale.
Klondike screened at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, which runs virtually from January 20-30.