'Crepuscule' ('Prismerk'): Odessa Review

Courtesy of Odessa International Film Festival
Charm on the farm.

Valentyn Vasyanovych's mid-length documentary was named Best Ukrainian Film at the Black Sea festival.

Multi-syllabic, multi-hyphenate and multi-talented, Valentyn Vasyanovych confirms his status as a key figure in current eastern European cinema with outstanding mid-length documentary Crepuscule (Prismerk). A deft, sympathetic and unfussily poignant portrait of an octogenarian farmer and her near-blind, sixtyish son, this 61-minute immersion in rural Ukrainian life nabbed top prize in the domestic competition at Odessa and should — despite an unorthodox, TV-friendly running-time — be high on the list for all documentary festivals interested in accomplished new work.

Writer-director-editor-DP Vasyanovych has already made quite the splash this year as co-producer-editor-cinematographer of Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy's The Tribe, which dominated Critics' Week at Cannes in May amid ecstatic reviews. A 130-minute tale of dark deeds at an inner-city boarding school told entirely in unsubtitled sign language and making superb use of tracking Steadicams, The Tribe has little in common with Crepuscule other than the fact that the latter's co-protagonist must also cope with severe sensory impairment.

Sashko is a gloomy, introverted type whose mien is of a man much older than his actual years; his mother Maria is a real firecracker, an indefatigable worker whose sprightly health and wiry vigor constitute a great anti-retirement ad. The mismatched pair's bickering yields moments of genuine friction, but somehow all of the many jobs on the farm get done and the duo generally find ways to bump along together — Sashko's father having long since departed the scene, in a land where the male life-expectancy at birth is still just 67.

As the dusk-invoking title suggests, shadows of mortality do creep in from time to time, most obviously via the newly-constructed coffin that waits in a woodshed. But in general Vasyanovych's approach is gently upbeat and quietly celebratory, taking his cue much more from Maria than from the saturnine Sashko. This kind of intimate farming documentary has, of course, been a reliable sub-genre of cinema stretching at least as far back as Dominique Benicheti's Cousin Jules (1972). And while Vasyanovych — who wrote and directed the features Business As Usual (2012) and Credenza (2013) — doesn't break new ground formally or content-wise, his picture shows that the combination of serendipitous access, sympathetic patience and a keen observational eye can reap enormous benefits from very limited resources.

A persuasive paean to practicality and persistence, Crepuscule features a particularly effective soundtrack supervised by Andrij Rogachov, mercifully eschewing the music that blights so many current documentaries in favor of the distinct noises that emerge from Maria and Sashko's old-school endeavors: the muted clicking of manual hair-clippers; the mulching of pulped apples; the clink of metal on metal as the chopping of wood reveals itself to be a two-person job, and thus a true family affair.

Production company: Garmata
Director/Screenwriter/Cinematographer/Editor: Valentyn Vasyanovych
Producer: Iya Myslytska
Sound: Andrij Rogachov
Sales: Garmata, Kiev, Ukraine
No Rating, 61 minutes

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