The Hamlet Syndrome, by filmmakers Elwira Biewiera and Piotr Rosołowski, is a raw documentary that brilliantly captures the pain that young people in Ukraine have been experiencing for years. A film that will stay with you.
A group of young Ukrainians are preparing a modern stage version of Hamlet. Their goal is to use their own wartime experiences and traumas to relate to Shakespeare’s play.
The fact that the filming of The Hamlet Syndrome happened before the 2022 invasion is a stark reminder of how little we as a people have done to help those in Ukraine. How many people were fully up to date with how brutal the fighting was over in the Donbas region before February 2022? So, to see how these battles have been affecting such a young generation long before the brutality of Russia became more publicised almost takes your breath away.
Using the stage as a way of releasing their emotions, we see the five actors for over a month experience a form of group therapy. Something you would not truly consider for a group so young, as if this is a psychological treatment for long-term army veterans. Yet this group are far from veterans; they are adolescents who should not have to experience what they have and certainly not for as long as they have.
Biewiera and Rosołowski structure their documentary wisely. Not solely focusing on the rehearsals and the play but also spending time in interviews to gauge a better understanding of what life is like for these Ukrainians. The rehearsals are emotionally charged and unbearably tense, so the breakaway is as much for us to see the private lives of these people as it is for the audience to catch their breath.
Due to being rather distant from the events that have been going on in Ukraine for almost a decade now, there is a faint feeling that we are not the true audience for this film. Yes, we will watch and be aghast and heartbroken for all involved, but like the play itself, which was watched by thousands of people online, The Hamlet Syndrome feels more for those experiencing conflict in their country. To show people of similar ages that they are not alone in all of this. That what they are feeling hidden in their minds is natural.
That is the magnificent power of The Hamlet Syndrome; it is a documentary that works on multiple levels. The closer you are to the source, the more it will resonate and hopefully relate to you. We never see what these people have been through; we don’t need to; they and the filmmakers do more than enough to have their stories and emotions lasered into our minds; this is as essential a viewing as it gets.
Kinoteka Polish Film Festival 2023 takes place in venues across London 9 March – 27 April.
For further information and tickets: https://kinoteka.org.uk/
Other reviews from the festival so far!
Woman on the Roof
Bread and Salt
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