Review: Stop-Zemlia

Written and directed by Kateryna Gornostai, introvert Masha sees herself as an outsider unless she’s hanging out with her two best friends, Yana and Senia. While trying to navigate through her last year of school, Masha falls in love in a way that forces her out of her comfort zone. Starring: Maria Fedorchenko, Arsenii Markov, Yana Isaienko and Oleksandr Ivanov.

Making an authentic film about the teenage experience is a difficult thing to do, typically most end up with a preposterous story which has little to do with everyday life. Here, Kateryna Gornostai manages to tap into a highly relatable yet specific experience of young life in Ukraine. Being down to earth and genuine is one of the key strengths to Stop-Zemlia but it is not the most impressive, that unarguably goes to Gornostai’s direction, matched with Oleksandr Roshchyn’s cinematography. The sublime framing of its shots is almost as satisfying as Kogonada’s work on Columbus, especially in the sense that is has a good appreciation for aesthetically beneficial architecture. It’s impressively consistent throughout, with a superb use of colour, a palette that is well matched with its youthful tone and naïve edge.

While the overall atmosphere and intentions of the film feel committed to telling an accurate and real portrayal of teenage life, the progression and focus of the story don’t always match. While Masha (Fedorchenko) does come across as the central character, there are large portions that move away from her completely in a way that doesn’t relate back. It seems to attempt a split with Sasha (Ivanov), but still doesn’t create another solid focus, it feels much more flexible and it doesn’t always work. Similarly, despite being grounded for the most part, in its latter half it tries out much more metaphorical or artistic scenes which sadly take away from the relatable atmosphere. There’s also a number of choices with editing which feel indulgent, many scenes that run longer than needed, which given the film’s fairly slow progression, slow it down even further.

The performances by the entire ensemble are well done, they hit all the classic teenage themes: sex, drugs, alcohol, anxiety, depression, social pressures and social media. While other films may try to make its 17-year-olds act like adults, these characters still have a childlike presence, playing silly games and pranks. Maria Fedorchenko presents Masha in a very relatable fashion, she isn’t overly mousy or shy, nor does she spend every second pining over the heartthrob, she has a quiet confidence and contentedness, with an edge of insecurity. Oleksandr Ivanov’s Sasha joins the ranks of modern male love interests, in tune with their emotions, understanding and kind. Arsenii Markov and Yana Isaienko help to tick all the teen boxes as Masha’s best friends, foraying into sexuality and unrequited love.

Stop-Zemlia is beautifully shot, framed to perfection and captures a lively, youthful and colourful tone. It succeeds best when it’s simply portraying a typical, genuine teenage experience and loses its way slightly when it tries to colour outside the lines with overly stylistic additions. It’s a touch drawn out and unfocused at times but is performed by a talented ensemble who bring a naïve, hopeful and energetic charm.

Verdict: ✯✯✯½ | 7/10

Available now on VOD in the US

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