Bitter Harvest Review

The Plot

Set in 1930s Ukraine, as Stalin ruthlessly advances the ambitions of the communist party in Russia, young artist Yuri battles to save his village from the Holodomor, the systematic Soviet program of engineering a famine with genocidal consequences for the people of Ukraine.

The Good

Bitter Harvest deals with one of the most significant and yet largely unspoken crimes of the 20th Century and human history. Having been shamefully shrouded in soviet era secrecy for so long it is the smallest possible act of consolation to have a true account of the genocide that claimed the lives of many millions of people brought to life on screen.

Regardless of any of the individual qualities of the film its mere existence is an important step in shining some light on a forgotten tragedy. Even those well versed in the Historical horrors of the second wold war will likely be deeply shocked to discover the true extent of atrocities that took place before it even began.

It wasn’t until the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union that true extent of this national tragedy was revealed to the rest of the world. Having waited so many decades for recognition it’s important that these events are not now quickly lost to the fog of history and ever shortening modern memories.

Writer director George Mendeluk battled for at least four years to make his vision a reality and it’s clear from the film’s production and performances that it was certainly made with the most sincere intentions.

The Bad

The fundamental problem with making a film about almost incomprehensibly terrible historic atrocities is that often audiences natural instinct is to remind themselves they’re merely watching a film. It’s an act of emotional self-preservation and a natural defence mechanism in the face of such relentlessly grim subject matter. As a result for these kinds of films it is vitally important to maintain a completely credible and immersive experience at all time. You simply cannot afford audiences the opportunity to detach themselves from what they’re watching.

Unfortunately for Bitter Harvest there are frequent lapses in the quality of individual performances, production value and above all the script which frustrate the films laudable efforts.

Max Irons and Samantha Barks are attractive young stars but frankly poorly cast as a pair of Ukrainian lovers facing up to one of the great evils in history. Their performances are earnest but their appearance is simply too obviously clean cut and well fed.  Unfortunately shooting out of sequence by production necessity meant that method acting and self-starvation wasn’t possible for the cast. Leaving a little too much strained credibility on makeup and a bit of dirt to effect any kind of transformation.

Danny Dyer’s regular straight to DVD accomplice Tamer Hassan battles valiantly to stay out of pantomime villain territory as a cruel soviet Commissar. Unfortunately a heavy handed script makes this exceedingly difficult at times.

Despite Bitter Harvest’s best intentions sadly the script is the most frequently disappointing feature of a film which never quite manages to be as emotionally compelling at it clearly hopes to be. Otherwise sincere work is mostly ruined by dialogue marred with awkward exposition and cringe worthy lamentations.  It makes it regrettably difficult to take the film seriously during some of its most crucial moments.

The Ugly Truth

Bitter Harvest ambitiously seeks to shine the light of modern awareness onto a largely forgotten act of historical evil. Even if at times the film falters in its efforts to capture the painful reality of such epic scale horrors, it deserves some credit for at least trying.

Review By Russell Nelson

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