Film Review: Bitter Harvest

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.

Film Review: Les Misérables

Tom Hooper’s film adaptation of Les Misérables is a slickly produced musical with great performances.

In nineteenth-century France, prisoner Jean Valjean breaks his parole in order to start a new life for himself. He is pursued by the persistent Inspector Javert. Meanwhile, factory worker Fantine is driven to extremes in order to secure the welfare of her daughter…

Based on the popular theatre production, this film adaptation of Les Misérables has a epic feel to it. The sense of tragedy of Victor Hugo’s historical novel (as the title suggests), is conveyed in this most recent adaptation. Fans of the musical will know exactly what to expect.

The first half of Les Misérables is stronger than the second half. The final third in particular feels rather weighed down, not helped by the running time of 157 minutes. Nevertheless, the film is very watchable overall. With its themes of conscience, poverty, love and authoritarianism, Hooper’s film is dominantly sombre with peaks of emotion. There is some comic relief, but this is minor in comparison to the hardship and loss that punctuates Les Misérables.

Visuals in Les Misérables are rich. The sense of poverty and grime does appear authentic, and contrasts well with the few scenes of opulence. The songs in the film are great, often feeling truly emotive.

Russell Crowe is the weakest of the main cast vocally. Hugh Jackman offers a strong performance as Jean Valjean. Amanda Seyfried is suitably delicate as Cosette. Eddie Redmayne is solid as Marius, while Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter provide the much needed comedy. It is Anne Hathaway, however, who steals the show with a fantastic performance. Both her acting and her vocal performance really stand out. Elsewhere, Samantha Barks provides good support as Éponine.

This film adaptation of the musical really should please its audience. Les Misérables is a great example of a theatre adaptation finely executed.