Sasha (Oleksandr) Kirienko: Orange Sky (Pomarancheve nebo, 2006) and
reviewed by Maryna Bazylevych© 2009
Orange Sky made its way into the post-Soviet cinema market as one of the first contemporary Ukrainian-made movies that received some popularity and box-office destiny, albeit with questionable success. The film is about love in the times of Orange Revolution that took place in Ukraine in 2004 during the contested Presidential elections. This modern-day Romeo and Juliet story comes across more as a political project rather than a film as such. According to the acknowledgements, it was financed at least partially by the Kyiv City Administration, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, as well as the Ministry of Defense. Perhaps that is why the resonance that it made among the Ukrainian viewers is quite contentious.
The film’s plot is simple. Mark—the main hero—is the son of a high-ranked official who has learnt to benefit from the existing corrupt power structures. Mark’s life is worry-free, with everything pre-arranged for him by his family: college in London, a sleek Jaguar with name plate reading “Mark,” ample night-clubbing, horseback riding in style, and even a bride, Asya—daughter of his father’s political friend, a general. Everything changes when he meets a young idealist named Ivanna. Mark realizes that the seeming freedom that his family money gives him is actually a golden cage, and that he is not free at all, bound by multiple family obligations, including the planned marriage to Asya. Ivanna shows him what true freedom is—fighting for one’s ideals, believing in ability to change the world and building one’s own destiny and the destiny of a country.
The Orange Revolution unfolded in Ukraine from November 2004 to January 2005 as a series of mass protests and political events surrounding the Presidential elections that were tainted by extensive intimidation of the voters and fraudulent mechanisms. Two Viktors participated in the final run-off vote for the Presidential office—the opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko heading the “Orange” political camp, and the protégé of the previous Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and Putin’s favorite, Viktor Yanukovych. Under intense public pressure, Ukraine’s Supreme Court annulled the results of the original vote count that was proved to be rigged by Yanukovych’s supporters, and the Orange opposition received a clear victory in the re-election. The inauguration of Viktor Yushchenko in front of tens of thousands protesters who would not leave the Maidan (the main square in downtown Kyiv) during several cold months of late fall and winter—marked the end of the Orange Revolution. The free will of the Ukrainian citizens and the trust in a democratically chosen president have since faced an enormous disappointment when the Orange camp split and the revolutionary promises failed to materialize.
Mark and Ivanna’s love story develops against the backdrop of real events of the fateful fall of 2004. The viewers see spontaneous sit-ins organized by regular Ukrainian citizens, they witness the so-called “carousels”—bus shuttles that repeatedly carried the same voters paid to fraudulently vote for Viktor Yanukovych under falsified voter registrations, as well as the provocateurs that were sent into the protesting crowds in order to attempt to stir physical fights to try and initiate military intervention. First unwilling, but drawn by his attraction to Ivanna, Mark witnesses the young people’s sincere involvement in Pora, the youth organization supporting democratic changes promised by the Orange camp. His eyes open to the injustice, as his new friends are falsely accused of carrying firearms that are planted by the police. Later, as their feelings grow stronger, Mark is consciously participating: he helps Ivanna’s friends from Lviv to pass the check-point that blocked the roads to the protesters trying to enter Kyiv; he leaves his bride at the airport as he trades a London future for the present at the Maidan.
This moral and political awakening of the main hero with the help of love is not a new theme in cinema. Visual metaphors employed in the movie are just as trite: the birth of a new life underscores the birth of a new democratic Ukraine (Ivanna’s sister gives birth during Yushchenko’s public inauguration); the moral righteousness of the protesters is emphasized by the scene in a makeshift church; the innocence and truthfulness of the main heroes and their feelings are symbolized by the images of perfectly ripe, almost Biblical apples framing several scenes. The obviousness of the metaphors distracts from believing the main heroes.
The issue of the Ukrainian-Russian bilingualism in Ukraine is also tackled rather haphazardly. Mark and his family are Russian speakers and belong to the non-progressive, though opulent camp. His former bride Asya speaks Russian and cares only about shopping, shooting pool, and enjoying her future life in London at the Ukrainian taxpayers’ expense. Ivanna and her friends are Ukrainian speakers, and stand at the forefront of changes in the country. Ivanna’s pregnant sister carrying a child symbolizing the future of the nation is also a Ukrainian speaker and an avid supporter of the Orange Revolution. Everything that is progressive and right is thus associated with the Ukrainian language, making the political nature of the movie quite prominent. This rather artificial language divide is made even less believable by the main heroes’ ability to never switch from one language to another. Mark never utters a word in Ukrainian, even when he is invited into the Ukrainian-speaking Lviv home of Ivanna’s parents. Similarly, Ivanna manages to never slide into Russian. Such separation of the languages even in the most intimate moments does avoid the problem of tackling surzhyk (a conversational mix of Ukrainian and Russian languages), however it creates an element of artifice that is hard to shake off.
Although the moviemakers claim that Orange Sky was a Ukrainian pioneer of the top-notch professional filmmaking, many Ukrainian viewers described it as being at the level of a TV series, rather than a big-screen hit. Both the filming and the editing are hardly innovative. The crowd scenes especially resemble a poor theatrical performance rather than a big-screen product. The documentary clips of real events in the end of the movie bring tears to one’s eyes—something that Orange Sky, which could have been an epic drama based on real events, has failed to achieve.
The Ukrainian viewers whom I had a chance to interview or to view their comments on public websites, emphasize that their disappointment in the movie is at least in part circumscribed by the disappointment in the revolution itself. The “Orange” theme in cultural production projects is yet another reminder of their broken dreams. As one of the Ukrainian viewers commented online, “Watching Orange Sky today is painful and disappointing, and it is also shameful. Dreams and hopes are crashed like fragile glass in heavy hands. The politicians who gave people hope and promised changes are fighting amongst each other, unable to divide and re-divide power. They betrayed people’s expectations. Life is not so easy and cheerful like in the movie. The symbol of the revolution—an orange—ended up with the same fate as in a children’s nursery rhyme, ‘We were trying to split an orange. There are many of us, but an orange is just one.’”
OrANGELove and Orange Sky are unlikely candidates for a joint review piece. These two films could not be more different. Orange Sky is a political project with average filmmaking. By contrast, OrANGELove is an artfully made drama that looks more like a music video than a big-screen movie. Comparing these films is like telling oranges from apples, both of which, along with the fall foliage, were among the commonly used symbols in these two works. Both plots are unfolding against the background of the Orange Revolution. However, while Orange Sky tells the story of the revolution itself through its main heroes, OrANGELove uses this motif only fragmentarily to unveil one of the facets of the male character, namely photographing crucial moments in human lives.
The story of Katya and Roma is a story of loneliness, love, a search for the meaning of life, and of finding each other and oneself. Katya is a cellist, Roma is a photographer. They share the love of walking barefoot in the rain, and find each other on one of such rainy days in old Kyiv. Their feeling is overwhelming, and immediately the heroes are inseparable. In search of an apartment, they come across a newspaper ad of an elderly man whom we could call “the player.” The player looks to trade his apartment in downtown Kyiv along with 200,000 Euros in savings for love. The rules of the games are simple: the couple cannot leave the apartment until the player dies, and he has about four weeks left withering away from complications from AIDS. All communication with the outside world is conducted via letters slid under the front door. The lovers’ bliss is shattered by the HIV test results that are tucked under their door one day—Katya is HIV-positive, and Roma is not. The innocence of their togetherness is lost, and death, initially at least, overshadows love. Roma runs, because this is his way to find himself when he is confused; Katya plays the cello. He realizes the world is too cold without her, but cannot re-enter the apartment. He plays the player and convinces him to share the virus with him, which in his mind brings him back to Katya. The balance is restored. However, another letter appears at the doorstep. Katya’s initial test results had been wrong, she is not infected. The player gets a chance to entertain himself by watching both lovers struggle with the ultimate decision. The final scene features the two heroes already apart sitting on two chairs: he is naked, with Katya’s true test results in his hand; she is dressed, listening to the sounds of trams outside. The scene changes, only Roma remains.
Similarly to Orange Sky, OrANGELove is filled with symbolic representations, though significantly more artful ones. The film’s director, Alan Badoev, is one of the most-sought and highest-paid “clipmakers,” that is, music video directors. He has created dozens of videos for stars of Ukrainian and Russian pop music. OrANGELove is his feature film debut, and it received the first prize at the Kinoshok-2006 film festival, as well as attention of the film critics at the 2006 Cannes Festival. As a creative person used to expressing his ideas visually, Badoev’s OrANGELove tells the story of the main heroes primarily though pictures, and only secondarily though text. Unusual angles, metaphorical images (such as the flow of time expressed by the moving sand or breaking light bulbs at crucial moments), pauses, flashes—these form the main language of the film. Because of this, at times the visual scripts of the director are hard to follow. Yet, his frequent change of images on the screen, as one of the viewers put it, does not create dizziness, but instead translates the feeling of fall, wind, passion, and the racing story of the lovers.
OrANGELove is a bilingual movie, just like Orange Sky. The female protagonist is a Ukrainian speaker and the male hero speaks Russian. Yet, the artificiality of this separation that was blatantly evident in Orange Sky does not come through in OrANGELove. Perhaps, this is achieved because Badoev’s heroes use their lines just as an addition to the visual messages rendered by their bodies and surroundings of the strange apartment where they are willingly locked in.
Film critics have applauded Badoev for addressing HIV/AIDS as a social issue in his movie, a topic still highly unpopular within the post-Soviet space. He does so gracefully, yet, similarly to the Orange Revolution motif, the storyline is somewhat undeveloped, and serves rather as a way to open up the personalities of the main characters.
As one of the online reviewers succinctly phrased it, OrANGELove is a “delicious dish for the eyes.” Visual images are artfully supported by “Esthetic Education” tunes. Both films should be applauded for their successful deployment of soundtracks. Orange Sky’s use of the rock songs that came to be known as “orange” (those created and played at the time of the revolution) also greatly adds to translating the spirit of the times.
All in all, these two films are the firstlings of independent Ukrainian film, tackling real problems that can touch the contemporary viewer, in contrast to the usual historical epic works dominating Ukrainian film production. The emergence of such products speaks of the future box-office hopes of Ukrainian film industry, as well as of the cultural production more broadly.
Maryna Bazylevych, University at Albany, SUNY
Orange Sky, Ukraine, 2006
Color, 95 min.
Director: Sasha (Oleksandr) Kirienko
Screenplay: Iurii Butusov, Svitlana Ruzyns'ka, Sasha Kirienko
Cinematography: Ulukbek Khamraev
Music: Nino Katamadze, Svatoslav Vakarchuk and Okean Elzy, Luk, Tartak
Cast: Aleksandr Lymarev, Lidia Obolens'ka, Kseniia Belaia, Nikolai Chindiaikin, Kseniia Nikolaeva, Lesia Samaeva, Oleksii Vertyns'kyi, Ville Haapasalo, Oleg Maslennikov
Producers: Iaroslav Mendus', Iurii Butusov
Production: Company “Cinema” 2006
OrANGELove, Ukraine, 2006
Color, 78 min.
Director: Alan Badoev
Screenplay: Alan Badoev, Ol'ha Krzhechevs'ka
Cinematography: Iaroslav Pilunsky
Art Direction: Olesia Bondar
Music: Zeljko Marasovich
Cast: Аleksеi Chadov, Ol'ha Makeieva
Producers: Alina Panova, Volodymyr Khorunzhyi, Viktor Topolov, Oleksandr and Viacheslav Konstantynovs'kyi
Production: CineCity Production; Radio Active
Sasha (Oleksandr) Kirienko: Orange Sky (Pomarancheve nebo, 2006) and
reviewed by Maryna Bazylevych© 2009