Valentyn Vasyanovych Introduces His Film "Atlantis"

"The topic of the war in the east of Ukraine is the most acute and urgent topic for me. People die every day."

Valentyn Vasyanovych's Atlantis is exclusively showing on MUBI starting May 4, 2021 in many countries in the series Viewfinder.

By 2017, the conflict with Russia in the Ukrainian territory had lasted for almost three years. My colleagues had shot several feature films about the conflict, mostly genre pieces. I also understood that this war was the most relevant topic and that I had to film it. When I started writing the script, I realized that I could not distance myself from the traditional dramatic structures. Nor from the set of characters with the protagonist being a friend and the antagonist being the enemy. My film turned out to be a standard military drama, no different from the films that have already been made. At some point, I came across information about the catastrophic deterioration of the water quality in the occupied territories; Predictions indicated that this crisis would eventually become an irreversible disaster for the entire eastern region. This problem was mainly due to a large number of waste mines: the water from the shafts was not pumped out properly, thus resulting in increased mineralization of the groundwaters. The situation was destined to deteriorate every year, and over time the territory becomes an uninhabitable desert. Worst of all, this change was irreversible, no way to fix it. With that in mind, I came up with the idea to shift the story to the near future, to 2025, portraying the results of the war. I wanted to show the end of metallurgical plants, the minefields, the unemployed people, the environmental catastrophe. Despite this dark context, I also wanted a way out for the protagonist, a person that has lost everything in this war. I wanted to understand what kept him going in this dead territory. 

The decision to work with people who had active military experience was evident. I hoped that they would share their unique experiences, which I didn’t have, making the film more authentic and understandable. I believe we achieved that! When I met the lead actor, Andriy Rymaruk, he had returned from the war and worked at the Come Back Alive Foundation. He often revisited combat zones on foundation missions and sometimes helped my coproducer Vladimir Yatsenko scout locations. I saw his face in the photos and invited him to audition. Andriy did a great job with the part, as well as did Liudmyla Bileka (leading actress) and Vasyl Antoniak.

Meeting Katya is the only hope for our main character’s survival. His only hope for self-acceptance and the catalyst for fighting for his life. Unfortunately, a friend of the main character who committed suicide didn’t have such luck. It is a well-known fact that a high percentage of people with war-related post-traumatic syndrome end their lives with suicide. Meeting Katya re-structures the life of our hero filling it with meaning. Their shared commitment to the Black Tulip mission brings them together and leads to love, which is - in this case - the only way out of their situation. It is also a story about the fragile world that is often destroyed by men and then revived by women.

The film Atlantis is a very real version of the consequences of a full-scale war between Ukraine and Russia. The biggest problem of Donbas is not economic degradation, but an ecological catastrophe. Hundreds of mines that used to be pumped out are now abandoned and flooded. Poisoned water from them falls into wells and rivers. In a few years, there will be no drinking water in this region, and people will not be able to live there. Donbas will turn into a lifeless desert, like Chernobyl, only of a much larger size.

Serhiy - returns home from the war, wants to get rid of injuries, and live a full life. To rethink the changes that have occurred to him, he joins volunteers who are engaged in the exhumation of the bodies of dead soldiers.

Serhiy gets the opportunity to look at what happened from a certain distance, to treat the tragedy as a historical event that has already happened.

Digging up the bodies of the dead soldiers, he steps over his psychological trauma, finds the strength to live on. The result of this path is the rapprochement of Serhiy with the same, war-traumatized Katya.

The film shows the different natures of the masculine and feminine. The confrontation between men with weapons in their hands always leads to the destruction of the world around them. Feminine nature seeks to restore balance, create order and establish a peaceful life. The rapprochement of the heroes, mutual sympathy as a result of which love arises, gives hope that this territory is not lost forever and people can stay here.

The topic of the war in the east of Ukraine is the most acute and urgent topic for me. People die every day. The number of refugees from the occupied Crimea and Donbas is 1 million 600 thousand people. The ecological catastrophe that the war led to has already begun. The war is going on. I wanted to look ahead and focus the viewer's attention on the result. On what will happen to people in these territories and whether they will be able to survive there.

I have always worked with the same team, Vladlen Odudenko as art director and Serhiy Stepansky as a sound director. They are my friends and the best professionals in Ukraine. Combining the director, DOP, and editor’s roles is seamless for me as they perfectly coexist within me and complement each other. There’s no need to have conversations with people trying to explain things that I often don’t understand myself. I maintain an inner dialogue and then I take the camera and find the optimal point and solution to the scene. It’s much faster to work this way. And during the editing, I have an opportunity to see my mistakes, analyze them and gain valuable experience that will be useful for me in my next films.

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