In between the two World Wars, the then nascent Soviet Union, in a barbarous act of mismanaged nation building, starved north of seven million Ukrainians to death, all the while violently appropriating the land and the crops from the ‘bread basket of Europe.’
Unquestionably, The Holocaust has received the lion’s share of cinema treatments when it comes to mid-20th century genocide, but to the best of my knowledge, Bitter Harvest is the first English language take on Holodomar. For such a monumentally horrific moment in history, the story of that brutal period of famine deserves a better telling than this clumsy, cluttered affair.
Hollywood (and the many Canadian film efforts that are often caught in its gravitational orbit) is very good at taking national crises and lathering on a mushy romance for the sake of butts in seats. From Pearl Harbor to Passchendaele, handsome, misguided attempts at turning history lessons into callow entertainment abound. (The weird irony is that with few large exceptions – Titanic – those butts rarely find those seats.)
Bitter Harvest is the latest casualty of this kind of folly. it’s a Canadian production with a predominantly British cast about a significant (and unimaginably horrific) moment in Ukrainian history. Director George Mendeluk, a 30-year veteran of directing for television, from episodes of Miami Vice to The Highlander: The Series), has spent the last decade almost exclusively making tele-movies. Here, it seems he cannot shake the more blunt – make sure the slowest customer ‘gets it’ – storytelling of the Lifetime genre.