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'Atmospheric and intense': Jonathan Djanogly reviews 'NAKAM'

'Atmospheric and intense': Jonathan Djanogly reviews 'NAKAM'

Mitka played by Anton Krymskiy | NAKAM

3 min read

Comparisons with the current Russian invasion are hard to avoid in this fast moving and excellent short film set during the Nazi occupation of Ukraine

The award-winning story of Mitka, a child without parents and owning little more than a violin, opens with him performing for German SS troops in a nameless inn, situated in some nondescript rural village in Russian-speaking Ukraine. Mitka and Yegor, his piano playing colleague, play not for money but for food and survival.

Every civilian portrayed in this short film, from the musicians to the innkeepers, to the children stealing food from the dog, seem to exist only to survive. For Mitka (played by Anton Krymskiy) and Yegor (Yevgeni Sitokhin) their survival is bound closely with their instruments, which they treasure and practice relentlessly.

And yet Mitka is not of peasant or urchin stock, as is revealed by the visit of SS Untersturmführer Seeger (Peter Miklusz) who inquires after who cares for the boy. Mitka replies that he looks after himself and that his parents are voluntarily “working in Germany”. Suspicions over Mitka’s origins and the fate of his parents, are confirmed to us when he later breaks out into Yiddish with a local partisan.

The film makes the point that, for some, life does actually provide more choices than simply survival. Here there is also the possibility of “Nakam” or revenge. Mitka has to decide whether to seek “justice” (as described by his partisan comrade) by avenging his parents’ and sister’s murders by assassinating the SS troops when out for a jolly at the inn between their “actions”. But Mitka’s dilemma is that the Germans’ deaths will be at the cost of collateral deaths of civilians – including his pianist friend.

The film is relentlessly dark, with dark rooms in dark villages surrounded by dark woods. The constant threat of death suspends any brightness of hope. The atmosphere of the inn, its rural simplicity and its dirt, are tremendous. One can almost smell the black sour bread and bortsch.

Ideologies apart, only the colour of the uniforms and the language of occupation are different

The film is very compact and fast moving. In fact, I would think that it could easily be made into a feature length film. But that would most likely lose the intensity that this film has to offer. Such as the raw horror of the SS officers discussing the mechanics of future “actions” against local villages whilst enjoying violin pieces more appropriate to be heard at a Viennese tea dance. 

Comparisons with modern Ukraine are hard to avoid. Perhaps the intention is that they are not to be avoided. The rural village life portrayed in the film still looks much the same today. Ukrainians again now suffer the terrors of occupation, including food shortages, orphaned children and extra judicial killings. 

In east and south Ukraine now, there are frequently reported war crimes, tens of thousands of criminal prosecutions being prepared by Ukrainian authorities and relatives searching for, but not always yet discovering, the consequences of occupation for their families. But somehow, even with today’s graphic media coverage, there is a certain detachment for us in the west of Europe that I found to be dispelled by this film. 

Ideologies apart, only the colour of the uniforms and the language of occupation are different. A depressing but lasting final impression for this excellent short film.

Jonathan Djanogly is Conservative MP for Huntingdon and vice-chair of the Ukraine APPG

'NAKAM'
Directed by: Andreas Kessler
Broadcaster: Film release date tbc

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