Starring Samantha Barks and Max Irons, Bitter Harvest is the story of a romance interrupted by war which takes place during the 1932-1933 Holdomor famine genocide (yeah… I didn’t know what Holdomor was either before I saw this movie quite honestly and if you knew, good for you!), where it is estimated that between 2.5 and 7.5 million Ukrainians were murdered by government enforced starvation. The Soviet government, under Joseph Stalin, took increasing amounts of grain grown by Ukrainian farmers until the percentage being taken was 100%, and the Ukranian people were literally left to starve and die as part of their punishment for their protest to having the Soviet Union take over their farmland and their country. I hope I made that clear enough. If not, just google it.
I must say upfront that the most notable aspect of this movie is how good looking these actors are. They are going through these hardships and everyone just looks beautiful while they are doing it. Even the older actors are quite attractive. And not only are they good looking, they can actually act. Overall, they put in a collectively strong performance. I would go to see Tamer Hassan in any movie he shows up in after this. That’s how well he performed. He was a bad guy, I believed him wholeheartedly, and I wanted to see somebody hurt him. That’s how convincing he was at being rotten.
The cinematography, camerawork, costumes, makeup and set design, were all well done. Bitter Harvest does a fine job at relaying the horrors, savagery, and inhumanity of war, the dangers of blindly following authority and orders, and the danger in resistance and protesting “the powers that be.” You will be completely sympathetic toward the oppressed and hate the oppressors as yet another shameful piece of history is recounted.
Bitter Harvest is creatively written as this love story within a war story or this war story within a love story, depending on how you look at it. It leaves it up to the viewer to decide which way they see it as these stories run simultaneously and sort of compete for your attention.
The problem with Bitter Harvest is the way in which the story is told. The parts of the picture were based on true events, but one can tell, or at least I could, that the love story is most likely not based on a true story. The love story becomes outlandish at some point because the main characters face and escape certain death too many times to be credible. Not that miraculous stories do not exist, but this was a bit too fantastic. I won’t say whether either of them live or die in the end (if you even care one way or another), but they certainly live a lot longer than anyone would believe they could have in the real world under their unique set of circumstances.
Because the love story and the war story seem to compete you are pulled into and out of the movie depending on which element of the story you prefer. (Unless of course you enjoy both elements; in which case, you won’t have the same problem with the story that I had, naturally.) I preferred the part of the movie that was geared toward the war and the resistance over the love story, so during the war I was absorbed into this movie. There were times I forgot all about the love story until the movie came back to it and I was less interested, less excited, less invested and kind of just hanging out and waiting to get back to the war.
Holdomor is shown from the perspective of a couple from two small families in what seemed like a very small but tight knit village, so one would never guess from watching this movie that an estimated 28,000 people starved to death daily at the height of this famine without doing further research. The way the starvation was shown in Bitter Harvest, and since I had no frame of reference for the scope or the scale of the deaths, it didn’t strike me from looking at this movie that the famine was that severe.
Bitter Harvest earned 8 out of 10 bloops. It is definitely better than good, and even though the love story becomes too miraculous and the Holdomor is too scaled down, it manages to pull off an “epic” feel despite being one hour and 43 minutes, which makes it kind of great. I will not say, “don’t miss it” because despite it’s interesting aspects, I fully understand that it is definitely not the type of story that everyone will enjoy. The historical aspect of the story makes it worth watching. I am truly getting tired of finding out about how many things the New York City public school system failed to teach me in these movies, but I am thankful the stories are being told now. If you knew about Holdomor before watching this movie, or you are from Eastern Europe or are an Eastern European history buff, or are just a hopeless romantic who is a sucker for a love story, you will most likely enjoy Bitter Harvest even more than I did.
1 = worst ever, avoid at all cost
2 = very bad, forget about it!
3 = poor movie, not recommended
4 = not good, even for free – NO!
5 = so-so, worth it if you don’t have to pay
6 = not bad, could have been better
7 = good movie, worth seeing
8 = great movie, don’t miss it!
9 = excellent movie, a must see!
10 = a masterpiece, go see it now!
- Congratulations to Moonlight, one of my favorites and one of only three movies out of 90 that I gave 10 bloops last year (the other 2 were The Lobster and Miss Sharon Jones), for winning Best Picture at the Oscars! A well deserved accolade. I would have posted predictions, but chose not too because I was just too emotionally attached to Moonlight to be objective about anything else.
What I’m Watching this Week