KARINA TUKANOVA examines a documentary about the impact of the Ukrainian revolution on the lives of ordinary villagers.
Hushed noises fill the streets of Stara Zburievka, a remote village in the south of Ukraine near Crimea; villagers run errands and live mundane lives; people struggle for a better existence but find happiness in the simplest of things. This is what Roman Bondarchuk’s Ukrainian Sheriffs is all about: the ordinary.
The ordinary lives of ordinary people unfold before our eyes in this semi-comical documentary. The film portrays the story of two sheriffs appointed by the local mayor to try and maintain social order. Despite the political tensions rife within Ukraine, this documentary is not trying to prove a point; rather, it allows the audience to peek into the small world of the residents of Stara Zburievka.
‘When I first met the mayor of this village and the sheriffs, I was totally fascinated. In a country where everything was corrupt, authorities not working properly, and the police never around, the people were not complaining, but found an alternative way to arrange their life’, director Bondarchuk explains.
As they lurch around in their yellow Lada, sheriffs Victor and Volodya try to resolve local disputes that range from petty thefts to alcohol and drug abuse. The duo is somewhat typical: Victor is the ‘smart guy’, Volodya is the ‘strong guy’. The former uses his wise judgement and experience as a policeman to settle the disputes, while the latter, ‘the terror of the hooligans’, uses his social position to gain respect from fellow citizens. Bondarchuk reveals: ‘At first time I met them I thought I would never find a better casting for a fiction movie. One, the big guy, looks like Tony Soprano, the other, thin and with moustache, like Chuck Norris.’
All the while, a war unfolds in East Ukraine. At first, the conflict remains at the periphery of village life. The news of pro-Russian separatists are heard only on the radio, and small-town politics remains at the foreground of the film. However, the war soon starts to penetrate Stara Zburievka; the village is shaken, new conflicts arise. Pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian fractions divide the residents, threatening the local council. The implications of the war become even more apparent as village men face conscription.
At first glance, Ukrainian Sheriffs simply traces the life of ordinary citizens and outlines their sense of morality, beliefs and fears. Dig a little deeper and the film reflects the mood of a nation on the verge of change. Bondarchuk creates an honest, moving film that goes beyond conventional portrayals of war and looks into the everyday life of those who are forced to become a part of the conflict.
Ukrainian Sheriffs shows a different Ukraine, far from the tumult of the Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Kiev. It is a welcome introduction into a village community we know little about, and an attempt to reconcile the people trapped by their country’s discord. ‘People want to be humans’, says Sergey, a supporting character. In many ways, his comment conveys the purpose of the film quite accurately. Ukrainian Sheriffs shows how people long for a better existence, and struggle to find their way when faced with a new reality. The villagers want to be human, not artificial, with feelings and emotions that may sometimes be absurd, and yet other times totally sensible. Dubbed a ‘tragic documentary comedy’ by Roman Bondarchuk himself, Ukrainian Sheriffs is a touching depiction of ordinary life melded with Ukraine’s national and geopolitical upheavals.
‘Ukrainian Sheriffs’ is part of the November documentary season, The Lives of Others, at the Bertha DocHouse. More information can be found here.