By Kim Hughes
Everyone should know about the Holodomor, the famine Joseph Stalin visited on the hapless peasants of Ukraine in the early 1930s as part of the Soviet oligarch’s brutal and disastrous collectivization campaign meant to claw agriculture into the arms of communism.
But no one should learn about it through Bitter Harvest which, despite its best intentions, is a clichéd muddle so lacking confidence in the gravitas of its fact-based subject that it garlands the narrative with a fictional love story.
Imagine if there was a meet-cute in Schindler’s List.
On the plus side, the film has a scowling and armed Terence Stamp – rarely bad – and a bunch of dudes rocking New Wave frocks and hairstyles seemingly inspired by the classic ‘Safety Dance’ video from Men Without Hats (sans oud-strumming dwarf, alas).
On the downside, as Stalin’s brutal genocide sweeps Soviet-ruled Ukraine, leaving skeletal thousands lying in heaps, we watch doe-eyed Yuri (Max Irons) join the resistance while dishy sweetheart Natalka (Samantha Barks) fends off pesky Bolsheviks back at (what’s left of) the farm. Oh, the humanity.
Yale historian Timothy D. Snyder’s gripping Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin from 2010 should have been director/co-writer George Mendeluk’s go-to source material. While it’s commendable that one of history’s most despicable human-inflicted tragedies is brought to light, Bitter Harvest leaves viewers bitter for all the wrong reasons. ‘Nuff said.
Bitter Harvest. Directed by George Mendeluk. Starring Max Irons, Samantha Barks, Barry Pepper, Tamer Hassan and Terence Stamp. Available on iTunes and Video on Demand June 13.
An entertainment/lifestyle writer and editor of an exquisite vintage, Kim has written about film, music, books, food, wine, cosmetics and cars for the Toronto Star, NOW Magazine, Report on Business, Amazon.com, hmv, Salon, Elevate, CBC, Spafax and many other marquee properties. She lives in Toronto and is a proud volunteer with Annex Cat Rescue.