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GOCRITIC! Karlovy Vary 2019

GoCritic! Review: My Thoughts Are Silent

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- A sound-recordist longing to escape his native Ukraine finds himself experiencing a bumpy ride in Antonio Lukich's tender debut feature

GoCritic! Review: My Thoughts Are Silent
Iryna Vitovska and Andriy Lidagovskiy in My Thoughts Are Silent

The search for an escape drives the main characters of My Thoughts Are Silent [+see also:
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, an oddball comedy which premiered at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. Winner of the Special Jury Prize in the East of the West competition, this Ukranian road movie exudes warmth and humour and has the potential to win the hearts of the arthouse crowd.

The debut feature of director Antonio Lukich revolves around Vadim (Andriy Lidagovskiy), a sound recordist and bedroom musician from Kyiv who lives a rather mundane existence selling audio snippets to big corporations. One day, he gets an irresistible offer: if he manages to record the song of a particularly rare bird, he'll get the chance to be employed in Canada.

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This promise of a "golden ticket" out makes him dash off towards the Ukranian countryside, only to have his suitcase robbed on the way there. He stops in his hometown and asks his grandfather for a lift. The person who shows up at the station, however, is Galia (Iryna Vitovska), his slightly estranged mother whose help he reluctantly accepts. Bound together by circumstance, they embark on a journey filled with self-discovery and strange animal sounds.

While this set-up has all the makings of a typical run-of-the-mill family bonding dramedy, the script, co-written by Lukich and Valeria Kalchenko, manages to imbue the characters with a sense of reality that makes them feel fully-fledged - and it does so without a lot of exposition. It's clear that Galia's divorce created a rift between mother and son - one which was never healed. It's also evident that this situation pushed Vadim away and forced him abruptly into adulthood.

The Vadim who comes back to his old home in Uzhgorod has almost the same social skills as the animals he sets out to record; he's stuck in a mindset in which only his music and his desire to leave Ukraine matter. Galia, on the other hand, is a young-at-heart woman who takes the bitter with the sweet but is now desperate about the prospect of a lonely old age.

Religion plays a big part in the background of the proceedings. Abundant Christian imagery highlights the characters' quests for something intangible, perhaps non-existent, which drives their actions. A seemingly unrelated opening scene set in the Middle Ages deals with a sacred body-part that allegedly possesses miraculous properties. Centuries later, Vadim and Galia are looking for their own personal forms of salvation.

Despite this heavy subtext, the script comes laced with sardonic humour, often revolving around embarrassment. Over two metres tall and with a perennially awkward look, Vadim sticks out like a sore thumb everywhere he goes, creating hilarious moments such as his arrival at a spa and a scene where he's questioned by police.

The light-hearted approach finds its way onto the visuals through bright and soft lighting that makes everything look like a distant and pleasant reverie. Reprising his collaboration with Lukich after the 2015 short It Was Showering in Manchester, cinematographer Illya Egorov brings to life a spring-hued and rosy Ukraine - a stark contrast to the chilly vistas of this country more commonly seen on screen.

Sam Kužel's synthesised score recalls vintage 1980s videogame soundtracks, in keeping with the songs Vadim produces at home and the business of his employers. Ingeniously, some excerpts of dialogue are integrated into the pieces themselves, creating a rich sonic environment that seems to mirror the protagonist's state of mind. When the outside world comes crashing in, the film employs diegetic music to maximum comic effect, like the two instances in which the Spice Girls' “Viva Forever” gets cued in.

It's unfortunate that the script then chooses to wrap up the story in a very rushed manner. Once Vadim reaches his destination, a turn of events that doesn't feel connected with previous plot developments prevents the emotional closure to which the film was building up. Ultimately, it's up to the audience to establish the effects the road trip had on him. While this decision may frustrate some viewers, especially the ones fond of neat and happy endings, it certainly doesn't diminish the pleasures of the journey that came before.

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