Bitter Harvest shines light on a lesser-known event of Soviet Union history. George Mendeluk’s film should be applauded for this, even if it does not always hit the mark.
In 1930s Ukraine, artist Yuri is in love with Natalka in their small but prosperous village. However, Stalin is advancing in the country, taking advantage of Ukraine’s farming to put pressure on villagers to join his communist regime. The consequences of going against him are stark…
Based on real historical events, Bitter Harvest‘s story works well to facilitate portraying Russian activity in occupied Ukraine in that period. The central narrative of a love story between two villagers functions to depict human side of horrific activity. The film is stealthy in its introduction of main characters and their relationship. Nevertheless, this haste has detractions. An early scene in which pair have reveal of feelings is not as dramatic as may have been intended, even with a score that begs the audience to emote.
As expected, events force pair to separate, with each facing their own hardships. The action moves back and forth between regions in a suitable manner. Nevertheless, the Stalin scenes jut out of place, in terms of cinematography and style. Although these provide necessary exposition, this could have been handled in a less diverting manner. Some antagonists almost caricature in their cruelness, although subtle regret is also visible.
Mykola’s final confession seems rushed, and it is not necessarily needed. The brutality of regime is depicted frequently, and for the most part effectively. The cinematography works well in village sequences. There is a strong contrast in colour and light from early sequences to final third. The script is fine, although there is an aura of modernity in some of dialogue between pair of lovers. Max Irons and Samantha Barks are decent as Yuri and Natalka, whilst Terence Stamp is underused. It feels like film has been edited significantly; particular dialogue or sequences are given a gravitas that is not really earned.
Bitter Harvest shows brutality of a regime often overshadowed by Nazi Germany in popular culture. The film has a number of faults, but provides thought-provoking viewing.