Appearing before us is a young woman intensely snapping photos. Rapid flashes of fire and explosions pierce our senses. This is Kyiv (Kiev), capital of Ukraine. We wonder if these chaotic images in the first few minutes of Julia Blue are a prelude to a grim tale about the Russian invasion of the Ukraine in 2014. They are not. Instead, we will be invited to witness a beautiful love story and the very normal struggles of a young woman trying to make a place for herself in the brutal world of war.
First-time director Roxy Toporowych never wants us to forget that the war has had a profound effect on the daily lives of the Ukrainian people. Through our heroine, Julia, however, Toporowych portrays a powerful feeling of optimism. Julia, as a representative of a younger generation of Ukrainians never allows her feelings of despair to overwhelm her passion as an activist and her desire to promote positive change. Julia is not a victim of her circumstances.
Ukrainian actor Polina Snisarenko is radiant as Julia. She emanates such spirit that we, as well as those characters she comes in contact with, are instantly charmed by her. We never doubt her heartache over the state of her beloved country, but her tremendous resolve in not only improving her own life but also those of the soldiers who have been wounded in the war, makes Snisarenko’s performance captivating.
Toporowych wisely gives us another perspective of the war through Julia’s love interest, who bears the code name “English.” Our first meeting of English is very different from that of Julia’s. With no dialogue and in close-up, we sense immediately a deeply troubled young man. Dima Yaroshenko gives us a subtle yet haunting portrayal of a young Ukrainian soldier tormented by his experiences in the war.
Modernization vs. Old World Customs
There is an enormous disparity between urban and rural culture in the Ukraine. Toporowych highlights this discrepancy by setting the first part of Julia Blue in the capital and the remainder in an isolated village in the Carpathian Mountains. In the more modern Kyiv, we don’t see a ravaged country destroyed by war/revolution. Instead, we behold an active, energetic city bolstered by the beauty of its monuments, the brightness of its lights and the splendor of its pink sky. We observe young people hanging out and trying to have a good time.
By contrast, the rural village of Julia’s childhood emphasizes respect for tradition and the importance of the family unit. A simple song sung by Julia’s family around a table is effective in presenting the importance of custom in this old society. Toporowych’s father is Ukrainian and her respect for this culture shines through in her handling of these scenes.
A Story of Love
The heart of Julia Blue is the romance that evolves between Julia and English. In lesser hands, from this writer/filmmaker’s viewpoint, the relationship between a determined young woman whose dreams are in danger of being thwarted as she falls for the young soldier who has not shared the extent of this PTSD with her, could have become melodramatic. Snisarenko and Yaroshenko have great chemistry together and their courtship remains genuine throughout the film. Toporowych uses very little dialogue in their scenes and relies on the strength of her two lead actors to create a powerful emotional impact. We only need to see how they look at one another and what they don’t say.
Julia Blue is not a depressing epic about war. It is a refreshing look at the choices we are forced to make when love collides with aspirations in a dangerous and precarious world.
Director: Roxy Toporowych
Screenwriter: Roxy Toporowych
Cast: Polina Snisarenko, Dima Yaroshenko
Composer/Music – Alex Church
Editor – Ben Kim
Cinematographer – Sashcko Roshchyn
Premiered at the 2018 Woodstock Film Festival. Visit the Woodstock Film Festival webstie for more information.
About the Author:
Rachel Errington is a New York-based actor, producer and writer, originally from Los Angeles. She recently produced and performed in “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” a short film headed for the festival circuit. Rachel graduated from Northwestern with a degree in Theatre. Favorite roles include Beatrice from “A View from the Bridge,” and the title roles in “Medea” and “Miss Julie.” You can learn more about Rachel at www.rachelerrington.com.