As the situation in Ukraine continues to dominate the current events media, it has also found a place in film news. The Ukrainian drama Bad Roads, directed by Natalya Vorozhbit, has been submitted as the Ukrainian entry in the 2022 Academy Awards.
While the film has been screened at film festivals worldwide for over a year, its April release in the US qualifies it to compete for the Oscars. The plot consists of four vignettes taking place in the contested Donbas region: a schoolteacher trying to cross a military checkpoint, a Ukrainian journalist arrested and brutally assaulted by a Russian soldier, and others. The encounters, which give particular attention to the precarious position of women during war, capture the tension and potential danger the filmmaker sees in eastern Ukraine. The director explained in a recent statement, “the back roads in my film take us into conflict zones, where people living in fear and hatred have learned to deal with dire situations, and have found extraordinary ways to emerge as survivors.”
Although Bad Roads seems to relate to the present Russia-Ukraine war, it is actually meant to portray the eastern regions of Ukraine, and the ongoing conflicts with Russian-backed separatists, over some years. Natalya Vorozhbit, who is well known in Ukraine as a television scriptwriter, wrote and produced Bad Roads as a stage play in 2017, which was variously reviewed as “shocking,” “painful,” and “difficult to watch,” beginning as a dark comedy but gradually becoming bleak and uncomfortable as it deals with some of the more grim and disturbing human consequences of war. It was most notably performed in 2017 at the Royal Court Theatre in London. Several years after the play was first produced, Vorozhbit adapted it as her debut feature film, winning awards both from the Ukrainian Film Academy and at the Venice Film Festival.
Director Vorozhbit, born in Ukraine but educated at the Moscow Literary Institute, commented following the film’s US release, “By setting the film in a place where antagonism between civilians and the military was palpable but remained silent, restrained, and muted, my aim was to shoot it in a quasi-documentary style, continually asking characters who are you? why are you here? and what is going on?” She adds, “my hope is that conflict will release its hold on the human heart, and give way to a new era.”