One of the more incredible stories to serve as a romance, Bitter Harvest tells the tale of two lovers caught up in one of the world’s most evil genocides, the Russian Holodomor. Filmed in the Ukraine where it happened, the movie shows how Russia took over the country for their grain and starved its people to death during the mid-1920’s. Told from the perspective of two youngsters who grew up, married and were forced to separate under Soviet Russian control, the film becomes a heartfelt tribute to the terrible nightmare.
The Ukraine, on the Western border of the Soviet Union, has provided grain for the Russia for years. The farmers work hard to plow, reap and seed for wheat. At harvest time everyone in the farming villages toil over the backbreaking process. Young Yuri helps his father (Barry Pepper) and he notices the girl Natalka who from that point on is determined to be with forever. Time goes by and the Bolshevik Revolution has escalated during the regime of Nikolai Lenin. With the Russian Military starving, Lenin orders the Ukrainians to increase their production of grain.
Time has passed and Yuri (Max Irons) finally gets to marry Natalka (Samantha Barks) from his village. Even though the country has been pressured to supply the grain for Russia under the leadership of Lenin, villagers have been keeping a strong pace. Upon the death of Lenin, Stalin has taken over and sends his head of police Sergei (Tamer Hassan) to Yuri’s village to force more production and for those who cannot, confiscate their land.
So begins a tragic story of hardship, perseverance, imprisonment and revenge centering within a romance that could not be broken. Director George Mendeluk does a fabulous job of bringing the film to the screen with ethnic costuming of the period, locations and use of make-up, even visuals of the piles of lifeless bodies. He shows the brutality of the Russian Bolsheviks, the perseverance of Ukrainians, and the pure romance of Yuri and Natalka as they try to survive their uncertain fate.
Owing to the fine work of Mendeluk, Bitter Harvest has the feel of a Dr. Zhivago as it takes place in the same era and deals with the ruling Russian Bolshevik Government at that time. Being a much shorter film however, Bitter Harvest works more magic playing out in lesser time, yet with as much power and pathos. And, the romance here digs deeper into the souls of Yuri and Natalka.
The fine performance by Max Irons as grownup Yuri is extremely good. He takes his character from submissive as a villager, to a scholar who joins a political party in Moscow and finally becoming a resistance fighter. He wants to see the downfall of the Soviets who are killing his people and his family. He turns up the volume on Yuri’s hatred of the Bolsheviks keeping himself focused on returning to his Ukraine alive. If Irons continues to put out very good performances like he does here, his career should flourish.
It’s good to see an icon like Terrance Stamp in a film that shows his brilliant acting ability. He gives an excellent performance as the strong willed Ivan who has been the protector of Yuri’s family when Yuri’s father Yaroslav, gets killed. Stamp captures the dignity, tenacity and courage of his character that makes the finale earnest.
Bitter Harvest has been rated R by the MPAA for violence and disturbing images. It also contains some sensuality and the images of the massive deaths are shown on three different occasions. It is suggested that the immature not see the film due to its strong depiction of brutality and fighting.
FINAL ANALYSIS: A very good film that unwraps the brutality of the Soviet Union toward the Ukraine.
Additional Film Information:
Cast: Max Irons, Samantha Barks, Barry Pepper, Tamer Hassan, with Terence Stamp
Directed by: George Mendeluk
Genre: Drama, Romance, War
MPAA Rating: R forDrama, Romance, War
Running Time: 1 hr. 43 min.
Release Date: February 24, 2017
Distributed by: Roadside Attractions