A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Bitter Harvest explores a dark part of history: the Soviet Union's march into Ukraine during the 1930s. Though the story is filtered through the prism of a romance, it's still filled with violent scenes. You can expect sword fights, beatings (i.e. a man kicks another in the face), shootings (some victims are shown dying up close), mass graves (with vultures feasting on the bodies), pillaging, and rape. There's also some social drinking and kissing, but violence is the main concern here. On the up side, there are messages about fighting for what you believe is right and never giving up hope.
Buried History of Ukrainian Famine Finally Told in Film (my comments on Bitter Harvest, published in Globe and Mail, 3 March 2017)
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What's the story?
BITTER HARVEST finds 1930s Ukraine under siege from Joseph Stalin, who's sending Soviet Union troops into the country to terrorize and collectivize the farms, leaving land owners and their families starving to death in a famine now known as "Holodomor." Against this backdrop, the film tells the tale of love between a young man named Yuri (Max Irons) and Natalka (Samantha Barks), his friend and beloved since they were children. Though Yuri's father and grandfather (Terence Stamp) are both renowned for their gifts on the battlefield, Yuri would rather pour his passions onto canvas as a painter. He goes to Kiev to study art and find paying work so he can help feed Natalka and the rest of his family at home, but when genocide reaches their corner of Ukraine and both are pushed to the limit, Yuri learns to fight back.
Is it any good?
There are many groundbreaking ways you could tell the story of a people's struggle with heartbreaking brutality and genocide, but this movie doesn't use them. Well-meaning but shackled by sentiment and tone-deafness, the movie suffers from its choice to frame this horrendous moment in history via a childhood romance. It's neither Irons' nor Barks' fault -- their performances are filled with passion and emotion, as is Stamp's.
Rather, Bitter Harvest's filmmakers (both director and writers) who rely too much on voice overs that deflate the storytelling and leave it devoid of momentum. They should have made the tragedy the centerpiece of the movie, not the romance -- it would have been better to tell a straightforward history if they wanted to bear witness to this bleak period in history. See it to learn about Holodomor, which everyone should know about, but not for the artistry.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Bitter Harvest's violence. Do you think it's all necessary to the story?
How does the violence here compare to what you might see in an action movie? Does the historical context make it easier or harder to watch? What's the impact of media violence on kids?
Does including a romantic plot detract or distract from the atrocities at the heart of the story? Or does it help filmmakers explore this part of history in more intimate ways?
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