The Movie Waffler New Release Review - PAMFIR | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - PAMFIR

Pamfir review
A reformed criminal is dragged back into crime to protect his troubled son.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk

Starring: Oleksandr Yatsentyuk, Stanislav Potiak, Solomiya Kyrylova, Ivan Sharan, Aleksandr Yarema, Olena Khokhlatkina, Rimma Zyubina

Pamfir poster

Almost half of Ukraine is rural, a countryside constituted of remote areas far from the developed towns and cities, wherein the sparse populace forge a living from the land via traditional means and their rugged physicality. Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk's frankly astounding folk-thriller debut Pamfir locates its action within the woody, earthy terrains of such a milieu. It is a hard life in this border town on the edge of the Carpathians. The weather is unrelenting in its murky coldness, yet the hearts of the people beat warm.

Pamfir review

Pamfir (Oleksandr Yatsentyuk) is a brute, a man seemingly hewn from the rocks and mountains which surround him. Returning to the village after a spell working abroad, Pamfir (an epithet derived from Ukranian for stone) is attempting to put his past as a smuggler - an inevitable vocation within this deprived and dislocated mob-owned region - behind him and go straight. After playfully tricking his pre-teen son Nazar (Stanislav Potiak) by hiding in a barn disguised as a monster, Pamfir is reunited with his wife Olena (Solomiya Kyrylova). They fuck, hard and convincingly, and once it's over, in a smooth motion Olena instinctively begins clipping her husband's toenails: that's love. If Mr Tarantino is right in saying that sex scenes are difficult to shoot, then Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk has filmed a masterpiece in these few urgent moments, which communicate not only the genuine love of this family, but also the hunger and imperative need which characterise their lives.

The opening scenes of Pamfir have the portentous impact of Heroic verse, yet the shifting subterfuge of the filmmaking hints at darker developments to come. Winding up Nazar, Pamfir dresses in an impressively constructed costume of flared straw and an outsize paper mâché skull, fashioned in preparation for the Malanka festival. The celebration is an abiding pre-Christian holdover which involves the men, only the men, of the village dressing up as animals and gods (I think Pamfir is going as Veles at the start: Ivan Mikhailov's excellent production design inspired further investigation of this colourful procession), in order to ward off any evil the forthcoming year may hold. Some hope. Throughout the film, Mykyta Kuzmenko's camera is furtive; restless, spying, showing us characters in reflection or obtuse angles. We are complicit in the forces that will come to shape the fates of Pamfir, Olena and Nazar despite their costumed rituals.

Pamfir review

Pamfir exists within the demands of circumstance. He can only stay home for the Malanka period before soon leaving town again to dig wells in Poland. Nazar, dizzy with boyish adoration for his father yet limited by a homely understanding of the world, designs to set fire to his dad's work papers so the patriarch is forced to stay. Problem is that in doing so he only goes and accidentally burns the town church down which is owned by the local Odesa. This means that Pamfir is inexorably drawn in for one last job, a thriller dynamic made fresh and original by the film's novel context and the filmmaking's searing vigour. There is a ragbag crew, dashes through snow laden forest filmed in fluid tracking shots, and painful, affecting violence.

Yatsentyuk is superlative, his Pamfir a man struggling not so much against the mob and the consequences of illegality, but his own dignity and need to protect his family. That said, a standout scene features the man of rock physically taking on a large gang of heavies and almost winning in a swirling, unbroken medium shot of sheer genre excitement. A telling and heart-breaking moment comes later wherein Olena admits that she has "nothing": Pamfir at least has his masculine power, a strength which also yet functions as a curse. The atavistic setting of Pamfir enables Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk to examine masculinity and all its lumbering responsibilities, an ineludible framework where traditional gender roles are pervasively essential.

Pamfir review

And with all that, there are moments of tenderness and keen humour... to keep them sharp during their night-time border hopping, Pamfir and his lads take a steroid which ultimately makes them priapic, leading to a comedy montage of self-relief (men wanking is somehow always ridiculous and funny). There are parallels to be drawn between the hand to mouth existence of Pamfir's denizens and the tenacity of its grant funded, low budgeted filmmakers, just as it is perhaps irresistible to conflate the micro of Pamfir's beleaguered position with Ukraine's unstable macrocosm. Such readings exist, but the pagan energy of Pamfir transcends its conditional contexts and, in its final scenes especially, becomes a universal treatise on what it means to be a man.

Pamfir is in UK/ROI cinemas from May 5th.

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