December 6 is officially designated as the Day of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in our calendar. It makes one to want to say in a lofty tone that in the current difficult reality all the days should be devoted to Ukrainian soldiers. Especially those who defend us and our peaceful everyday lives as they hold the line in eastern Ukraine with arms in their hands. However, Ukrainians have long since begun to forget about the war or at least to pretend as if it is not being waged at all. How, then, are we to prevent people forgetting about this most important thing? How can we remind ourselves of our presently doubled or even tripled responsibility for our actions to those who man the trenches out there? I think it can be done through art, including war-themed photo exhibitions, books, films, other artistic events...
The film Cyborgs, directed by Akhtem Seitablaiev, will have its wide release on December 7. And this is exactly the kind of film which is able to refresh our memories, which have managed to gather some dust since 2014-15. A series of pre-premiere screenings of the movie was held last week. It started symbolically from Mariupol, and then came to Zaporizhia, Dnipro, Lviv, Ternopil, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Chernihiv. I have already watched the film. What about my impressions? As soon as the closing credits appear on the screen, the entire audience breaks into applause. Subsequently, filmgoers stand up row after row and continue to applaud until the last frame goes away. Without exaggeration, half of the audience was visibly tearful, and some were openly crying out. I have never seen anything like that after a film screening before.
The theme of the legendary defenders of the Donetsk Airport is extremely complicated. Those infernal 242 days of defense have already created a Ukrainian mythologem which will live for centuries. Many people told me they were worried about Cyborgs. They were simply afraid to be disappointed, burn out or even get burned. Meanwhile, I was absolutely sure that Seitablaiev and his crew would not let us down. And they have really done their job.
I did not plan to write a full review of this movie. It would not be objective, because I have sincerely rooted for this project since first watching the Cyborgs trailer. After all, this is a film that is extremely needed today. Yes, film connoisseurs will find something to nitpick at, even though this film is also a remarkable phenomenon for the national cinema. At a press conference held after the pre-premiere screening, Andrii Sharaskin (also known as the cyborg Bohema, who became the prototype of one of the characters of the film) aptly remarked that years later, this film would be studied as the first Ukrainian blockbuster. Yes, there is a lot of well-done action there, many battle scenes and high-end computer graphics. However, in the first place, Cyborgs is a war drama.
I went to the cinema not for spectacular explosions, but for live dialogs. And they do indeed get most attention in it. Some dialogs between the film’s characters last for almost 10 minutes. Seitablaiev and the actors admit that it was these dialogs that were hardest to shoot.
Each of the principal characters is different. They have different tempers and outlooks. Each of them has a truth of his own. The argument between committed nationalist and conservative Serpen and liberal, tolerant Mazhor turns into a kind of confrontation between the older and the younger generations. The viewer witnesses the struggle of two worlds. Meanwhile, real cyborgs note in after-screening conversations that they saw themselves in some characters of the film.
This film does not sing lofty praises to soldiers who defended the Donetsk Airport. It just tells this story through artistic means. There is a lot of humor there, which fighters like to engage in while looking death in the eye. There is also a lot of pain, which has pierced every inch of the airport. But the main feature of Cyborgs is the hope that the film emits. Director Seitablaiev constantly emphasizes that his film is life-affirming. He maintains that first of all, it is made for young people, because it is about hope, about victors, about new people of a new country.
It was only a matter of time before the war appeared in Ukrainian cinema. Now it is already there. But this does not mean that the film assembly line will now start mass-producing new films. No. Cyborgs have set a high bar, which will be difficult to clear. I think this will not happen soon. It should be noted that Cyborgs was a costly project in all senses. The total budget of the film was 47 million hryvnias, half of them provided by the state. Back in 2016, the film won the competitive selection held by the State Film Committee of Ukraine, which identified film projects with the best claim on public financial support. The state’s decision to help such projects is undoubtedly correct.
It is hard to call the screening of Cyborgs a regular cinema trip. It was something bigger and more powerful. It is an opportunity to recall, even to relive what we felt during those hellish 242 days. For some people, the film will be an opportunity to reconsider something within themselves, perhaps.
P.S. Finally, I will just remark that on the occasion of the film’s release, the Cyborgs crew and the Get Back Alive charity foundation launched the initiative called “I Am Not Indifferent.” According to its terms, out of the price of each ticket purchased for this film, 5 hryvnias will go to the families of those killed in the battle for the Donetsk Airport.