From the critics
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Before the Stalin atrocities, at film's opening:
Across the ages it has been called many things: The borderland, the wild fields, the bread basket of Europe. But since I was a boy, Ukraine was simply 'home'. Even as we dreamed of freedom from the Russian tsar, life went on as it always had. Moving to the rhythm of the seasons, waxing and waning in the eternal cycle of seed, plough and reaping. A life of hard work and small pleasures.
Comrade Stalin, Comrade Lenin tried to collectivise. He targeted the intelligentsia, the church, the peasants. The Ukrainians rebelled. They flourished!
- Lenin was too lenient. Syphilis had softened his brain. Ukraine must be taught to bow to our will. Without its huge mineral wealth and vast harvests of grain, Russia cannot exist.
You are Boyko? I see, Boyko, you own a horse... a cow... land. Do you hire help to manage the land? Then you are kulak. A privileged class, an enemy of the state.
Bastards! Blood-sucking bastards.
-I am a poor peasant.
That's for the state to decide. If you cooperate, you'll be allowed to live in the cooperative.
-You mean on my own land?
If you don't, you'll either be jailed... or shot.
-When will the state decide?
It already has.
My grandson will have his revenge.
On-screen text at the end:
The 1932/33 the Soviet-instigated starving of Ukraine is now known under the name of Holodomor (death by starvation). The whole horror of that intended policy was only revealed after the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991. In 2003 Russia signed a declaration which confirmed that the Holodomor cost was between 7 and 10 million of innocent human lives. Now the Holodomor is recognized as one of the biggest crimes against humanity. 16 nations are considered as those who committed genocide. This film is dedicated to the victims of all genocides.
"Based on one of the most overlooked tragedies of the 20th century, Bitter Harvest is a powerful story of love, honor, rebellion and survival as seen through the eyes of two young lovers caught in the ravages of Joseph Stalin’s genocidal policies against Ukraine in the 1930s. As Stalin advances the ambitions of communists in the Kremlin, a young artist named Yuri ( Max Irons ) battles to survive famine, imprisonment and torture to save his childhood sweetheart Natalka ( Samantha Barks ) from the 'Holodomor,' the death‑by‑starvation program that ultimately killed millions of Ukrainians. Against this tragic backdrop, Yuri escapes from a Soviet prison and joins the anti‑Bolshevik resistance movement as he battles to reunite with Natalka and continue the fight for a free Ukraine.
"Filmed on location in Ukraine, this epic love story brings to light one of the most devastating chapters of modern Europe."
" 'Bitter Harvest' does indeed cast a searing light on the Holodomor, Stalin’s motives and Moscow’s savage repression of Ukraine’s resistance to the Soviet regime. But it is neither a history book nor an impersonal polemic. Above all, it is the gripping tale of Yuri and Natalka – a young couple in love, who fight to overcome every obstacle life throws at them.
"Director George Mendeluk is first and foremost a master storyteller, breathing vivid life into the nuanced characters in his epic-romance. By spinning a tale anyone can identify with, Mr. Mendeluk also illuminates our common humanity. 'Bitter Harvest' stands out as a romance in the same sense as Verdi’s 'La Traviata' – that composer’s most intimate opera, where he plumbed his heroine’s heart with a wealth of poetic expression and economy of means."
Source: Adrian Bryttan, “ 'Bitter Harvest': A universal romance shines a light on truth about the Holodomor," Ukrainian Weekly. February 17, 2017.
"This international co-production is out to impress as Ukraine's Doctor Zhivago. It's set during The Great Famine of 1932-33, when Stalin's Soviets starved millions of Ukrainian farmers and their families with its genocidal policy of forced collectivisation.
"But sitting at the centre of the tragedy is a love story between childhood sweethearts Yuri and Natalka, played by Britain's Max Irons (son of Jeremy) and Samantha Barks, who scored her screen breakthrough with her performance as Epomine, the young revolutionary in the Hugh Jackman-Russell Crowe film version of Les Miserables.
"They're a beguiling pair but they're destined to spend half the movie apart. After a pastoral idyll shot in their village at harvest time with sunny backlighting and connotations of mellow fruitfulness, the Russians ride in and nothing is ever the same again."
Source: Sandra Hall, "Bitter Harvest review: Beguiling pair in Ukrainian tilt at Doctor Zhivago, " Sydney Morning Herald, February 26 2017.
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