Rhino

Rhino ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director/Writer: Oleh Sentsov. Cast: Serhii FilimonovEvhen ChernykovYevhen Grygoriev 

This is definitely the darkest and most hopeless film I’ve seen this year. And it’s probably not too surprising to see that it’s coming from director Oleh Sentsov, an Ukrainian activist who spent 4 years in prison after being charged of terrorism for speaking out against the Putin regime and Russian war in Crimea (He was actually sentenced to 20 years, but “saved” earlier by Amnesty International ).

His anger is clearly present in every frame of this film as he depicts Ukraine in the late 80s and early 90s, at the fall of the Soviet Union, as a place overrun violence and criminal activities. The film itself is full of graphic depiction, remorseless killings, and cold violence against all living beings, including women and children (though those are often unfortunate “casualties of war”). I had to watch a scene in a barn towards the end through my fingers, something I don’t usually do.

Sentov doesn’t seem too interested in making any political statement here, in fact to be completely honest, I’m still struggling to work out whether there is really any message to learn from this utterly depressing story

The plot itself feels very familiar, as it follows a young man, nicknamed “Rhino”, his rise (and fall) up the criminal ladder through a series of gangster bands. As somebody before me has rightly pointed out, this could be a Ukrainian version of the Italian Gomorrah.

It’s not an easy watch, not just for the violence itself, but also because it’s very hard to engage with Rhino, at least throughout the whole first hour. Despite his impressive physicality and threatening look, he’s not just a very unlikeable character as he moves from one unredeemable deed to the next and crucially he’s also rather unreadable for us the audience.

The film starts off with a sequence during which Sentsov shows off some some impressive film-making skills: in a seemingly uninterrupted take, perfectly choreographed, the camera moves around a house as we scroll through 20 years of the life of “Rhino” establishing his sad upbringing and the atmosphere of violence he grows up with.

It is a very showy beginning, which almost feels like a film within a film and sets the wrong expectations for the rest of the drama, which actually plays out pretty straight.

Despite of all of the above-mentioned shortcomings, this is still an undeniably powerful film, which I won’t be able to shake off too easily.

Out today on most of the major streaming platforms (GooglePlay, iTunes, Prime)

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