Bitter Harvest is well-meaning but incompetent

Drama set during the Soviet-engineered famine that killed millions of Ukrainians yields nothing but boredom


BITTER HARVEST (George Mendeluk). 103 minutes. Opens Friday (March 3). See listing. Rating: N


I’ve said it before, and sadly Bitter Harvest gives me cause to say it again: the only thing worse than a terrible movie is a terrible movie that thinks it’s good for you.

A sweeping drama set during the Holodomor, the Soviet-engineered famine that killed millions of Ukrainians in 1932 and 1933, Bitter Harvest is a well-meaning but utterly incompetent fiction that uses the event as a backdrop.

Director/co-writer George Mendeluk might have thought audiences would respond to an invented romance set against a historic tragedy (you know, like Doctor Zhivago or Titanic), but he just doesn’t know how to tell a story without clichés. In his heroic tale, wide-eyed peasant Yuri (Max Irons) leaves his tiny Ukrainian village to become a dissident and warrior when he realizes the true depravity of the Soviet state.

Except for a few scenes of a decadent Josef Stalin barking orders at underlings in Moscow, the politics and specifics of the Holodomor are simplified into meaninglessness, while Yuri’s beloved Natalka (Samantha Barks, from Les Miserables) weeps miserably back at home, clearly wearing makeup to make her face look thinner.

Honestly, every creative decision is totally inept, from the randomly applied canted angles to a terrible combination of Hitchcock zooms and morphing – morphing, for Christ’s sake! – during a villain’s borscht-induced hallucination. This is a movie that has Terence Stamp in it and still fails to achieve gravitas.

Mendeluk clearly wants to deliver a grand historical epic, but he’s got no ear for dialogue, doesn’t trust his actors to relay emotions at a human scale and lacks the patience to develop characters or convey the simple passage of time.

This is hackwork from beginning to end. If it’s any consolation, there are plenty of terrible movies about the Holocaust, too.

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