Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Quiet in Odessa (2014)

Quiet in Odessa Trailer from dmitriy khavin on Vimeo.

Dmitriy Khavin's QUIET IN ODESSA will make you do something that's rare for any movie these days, and that is wish it was longer.  Khavin has fashioned a film that has so much going on that you'll want another 43 minutes to continue to hang out with some good people.

Begun two weeks after the May 2nd 2014 clash of pro-Russian (pro-Putin) and pro- Ukrainian forces in the city of Odessa the film documents a period of quiet leading up to the Presidential elections.  The violence, which only exists in the words of the people interviewed, was the first civil unrest since 1918. As the title says its a film about the quiet in a normally quiet city.

The film's initial focus is the city's Jewish community.  As the film opens we are in a synagogue and watch as a young man talks to us about the Jewish community in Odessa  and how many people have been returning to the faith after years in hiding. Living in a free country they feel they are able to come out in the open or connect with the faith of their parents and grandparents. From there changes and changes again into a discussion of what its like living in the city and the Ukraine and why people were willing to fight the pro-Russian forces to remain free.

I have just badly explained an absolutely wonderful film that is so full of life and magic I wish it was twice as long. This long short film does more in it's 43 minutes than most other longer films do. With in it's brief running time we get a whole world and a whole populace. We come to understand not only the place we are being told about but ultimately ourselves as well.

This is a film that isn't just about being Jewish, nor about being Ukrainian,... no, this is a film that is grander and more magical, this is a film about being human and being in love with a place that you live. This is not a film about just Odessa but about any city where people feel connected to the place and all of the people living there. This is a film about a place that people are willing to fight to protect their home and the people living there as well. The film also speaks loudly to anyone who has ever wanted to learn about or reconnect with the ethnicity of their family.

Director Dmitriy Khavin gets it right in structuring the film as a series of  opening doors or nested boxes. We start at the synagogue, then move to the family, from there we have the men in the steam bath, the reporter and the writer who moved there and finally the family in the self defense forces.  We start with a group of guys  learning about their religion and then it flows outward into bigger things, the families, the other residents, the emigrants,  and finally the fighters, all expressing the love of this place they call home. Through each door, or each segment we too fall in love with the city and the people that inhabit it.

One thing that impressed the hell out of me was that Khavin manages to say more about the rebounding Jewish community in Eastern Europe and the rediscovery of hidden Jews of their faith, than a full feature I had seen a day or two before.That other film it took 90 minutes to say what Khavin says the opening five minutes.

Another thing that Khavin gets absolutely right is the imagery. Odessa is not one place or one street or one anything, its lots of places and lots of people. We wander the city either as the families show off their homes or as the reporter wanders the city taking pictures. We see everything, the grander homes and the run down spots. Not only do we see it but we fall in love with it.

This is a great film.

Actually what I'd like it to be is a great feature. As good as the film is, it feels unfinished. The film has so many ideas floating around that there is more I'd like to know, especially at the end where the film deals with the family of self defense force members. They talk about what they do and they speak about protecting the polling places and then the film kind of just stops. We don't find out what happened in the election, or with the situation with pro-Russian forces I kind of get the feeling that Khavin had to leave the city before he had the whole story. Personally I'd love him to go back and tell us more.

Leaving us wanting to see and know more is a minor flaw as these things go, especially in this day and age when most movies leave one wanting less.

QUIET IN ODESSA is a great little film- GO SEE IT.

In a brief email exchange with the director he said that he is hoping to get back to Odessa in 2015 and pick up with the same people, assuming that the pro-Putin forces don't make a move to take the city.

The World Premiere is Sunday, November 2, 7pm, JCC Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Ave, NY.
The screening will be followed by Q&A with one of the film's subjects, a member of
the Odessa Self-Defense Brigade and the film's director.
For Tickets and more directions go to the JCC Manhattan website.

The film will screen again at The Central Brooklyn Public Library on Nov 20 along with the director Dmitriy Khavin's film from 2012 The Territory.  For Tickets and information on that screening go the Brooklyn Library Event Page here.

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