[…] The drama of violence, where he appears to be a passive object of physical abuses – almost a cartoon figure – is substituted by the drama of integrity: his not being accepted by that wild society is nothing but the consequence of his refusal to accept the non-civic rules of a world without rules.
[…] Punctuated by surrealist scenes (Vadim Ilkov’s praiseworthy cinematography), «Volcano» is organised as a series of highly cinematic eruptions – with plenty of references to infamous historical authors, from Federico Fellini to Wes Anderson.
Like Sharunas Bartas’ Frost, Volcano starts as a road movie in Ukraine and becomes a story of getting lost in regions ravaged by war. The similar movements of slowing down, of running ashore notwithstanding, the human trajectories of the two main protagonists are radically different, insofar as the path of radical disenchantment for the young Lithuanian seeking meaning and action in his boring life (Frost) metamorphoses here into a path of enchantment for the Ukrainian bureaucrat from Kiev (Lukas), rediscovering the basic values of life. However, this positive moment comes very late in Volcano’s story, which is largely marked by Lukas’ misadventures. A simple car accident spirals down to his complete spoliation and his abandonment in a deep hole in the earth. In Alexander Bondarchuk’s eyes, war is not only the dirty reality of fanaticism and killing on the front, but more so the wild jungle of a society that has disintegrated into a state of anarchy. There is nothing epic in violence, only the banal and animal truth of the homo homini lupus principle (“man is wolf to man”), where mistrust reigns, where each person is an enemy and his/her life is of no worth anymore.
The more difficult the situation, the purer the humanity that eventually resists it. If we are astonished by the barbaric climax of disrespect for the human condition, we will be much more astonished by an unexpected friendship that becomes …less and less insincere. After being saved from certain death, Lukas (a brilliant Serhiy Stepansky) finds himself trapped in an improbable captivity, both gentle and self-absorbed. The drama of violence, where he appears to be a passive object of physical abuses – almost a cartoon figure – is substituted by the drama of integrity: his not being accepted by that wild society is nothing but the consequence of his refusal to accept the non-civic rules of a world without rules. With a growing condescendence for anarchy that clearly recalls some of Emir Kusturica’s films, Bondarchuk finally marks the emergence of friendship and humanity, and the acceptation of a compromise with an unregulated and corrupted world coincide. Lukas lives the experience of a radical nakedness, or vulnerability, without the protection of the rule of law, yet the existential level on which he is placed will not have a tragic outcome, but the positive acceptation of a non-stainless life.
Punctuated by surrealist scenes (Vadim Ilkov’s praiseworthy cinematography), Volcano is organised as a series of highly cinematic eruptions – with plenty of references to infamous historical authors, from Federico Fellini to Wes Anderson. Even if the architecture of the film suffers from a not always fluid enchainment of “episodes”, the sensation of narrative disintegration – in a way useful in conveying the general atmosphere of social disintegration – is balanced through the intensity of the singular scenes, where the landscape often plays a decisive role. The actor and documentary filmmaker Bondarchuk in his first experience with a fiction feature has chosen to work with non-professional actors, thereby showcasing his amazing bravura as an actors’ director.
Text: Giuseppe Di Salvatore
First published: March 27, 2019
Volcano | Film | Roman Bondarchuk | UKR-DE-MCO 2018 | 108’ | FIFF Fribourg 2019
Special Mention at Festival International de Films de Fribourg 2019