The Wild Fields (Dyke Pole) (2018)

The Wild Fields (Dyke Pole) first published by EyeforFilm

“The road back home is a one-way trip,” 30-year-old Herman Korolyov (Oleg Moskalenko) is told as he returns from Karkhiv – where he works as an “independent expert” – to the rural part of Donbass where he grew up. Herman intends to stay only one night, sorting out the affairs of his brother’s gas station now that his brother has unexpectedly left the country – but with Russian gangsters intending either to buy or violently seize the property from him, Herman’s indecision gradually turns into a determination to stay on and to defend what is rightfully his, whatever the cost.

Serhiy Zhadan’s Voroshilovgrad was presciently published in 2010, four years before the outbreak of the War in Donbass – but in adapting it with the benefit of hindsight, Jaroslav Lodygin’s feature debut The Wild Fields (Dyke Pole) now serves openly as an allegory of Russia’s cross-border land grabs in Ukraine, and as a call to arms for locals in their resistance to invasion. Where his brother fled, and where flirtatious schoolgirl Katia plans to leave, Herman remains behind, forming an alliance with two playmates from his childhood and with the business’ feisty accountant Ohla. The story is a rambling, rambunctious modern western, peppered with plenty of absurdist humour – and even if by the end it has run out of steam, perhaps even of coherence, it is always appealing to see a ragtag group of shabby underdogs taking a last stand against apparently overwhelming force. It is an open question, though, whether viewers will be willing to accept the suggestion – made not just by a character, but by the film’s own final image – that Herman’s newfound nationalism is an expression of the divine will.

© Anton Bitel