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Ukraine Noir: Its History and Evolution

Ukraine Noir is a genre of film (and also literature) originating from Ukraine that incorporates elements of the crime and detective genres in order to reflect the social, political, and economic conditions of the post-Soviet era.

It often highlights the struggle for power in a lawless society and portrays a world of moral ambiguity. The genre has become increasingly popular in recent years, with films such as “The Guide” and “The Tribe” gaining international recognition. Ukraine Noir is an important part of Ukrainian cinema and continues to influence filmmaking in the country.

In this guide, we provide an overview of Ukraine Noir, along with some examples from notable movies in this genre.

1. Introduction

The history of Ukraine Noir is a fascinating and complex one, filled with twists and turns that have shaped the genre into what it is today. In order to fully understand this rich history, it is important to begin with an introduction to the genre itself. Noir, as a literary and cinematic genre, is characterized by its dark and moody atmosphere, as well as its focus on crime, corruption, and the seedy underbelly of society.

Ukraine Noir, in particular, draws heavily from the country’s tumultuous history, including its struggles with political corruption, organized crime, and the legacy of Soviet rule. By exploring the origins and evolution of Ukraine Noir, we can gain a deeper understanding of the genre’s unique voice and perspective, as well as the cultural and historical forces that have shaped it over time. From its early beginnings to its current status as a thriving and dynamic genre, Ukraine Noir is a testament to the power of storytelling and the enduring appeal of crime fiction.

2. Definition of Ukraine Noir

Ukraine Noir is a subgenre of crime fiction that emerged in the 1990s, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is characterized by its dark, gritty portrayal of Ukrainian society, with a focus on corruption, violence, and the criminal underworld. The term “noir” refers to the French word for “black,” and is used to describe a style of crime fiction that emphasizes the bleak and pessimistic aspects of human nature.

Ukraine Noir, in particular, draws heavily from the country’s tumultuous history, including its struggles with political corruption, organized crime, and the legacy of Soviet rule.

Ukraine Noir is often compared to the works of other Eastern European crime writers, such as Poland’s Marek Krajewski and Russia’s Boris Akunin, but it has its own distinct flavor, reflecting the unique history and culture of Ukraine. Some of the most prominent Ukrainian Noir writers include Andrey Kurkov, Oksana Zabuzhko, and Serhiy Zhadan, who have gained international recognition for their gripping and atmospheric novels. Despite its relatively recent emergence, Ukraine Noir has already made a significant impact on the world of crime fiction, and is likely to continue to grow in popularity in the years to come.

3. Pre-1917 History of Ukraine Noir

The Pre-1917 History of Ukraine Noir is a fascinating and complex topic that sheds light on the origins of the genre. Prior to the Russian Revolution, Ukraine was a part of the Russian Empire and was characterized by a deeply divided society. The ruling class, which was predominantly Russian, held power and wealth, while the Ukrainian peasants and workers were oppressed and exploited. This social and political context gave rise to a unique brand of crime fiction that was rooted in the harsh realities of life in Ukraine.

The early works of Ukrainian writers such as Ivan Franko and Lesya Ukrainka explored themes of poverty, corruption, and social injustice. These writers paved the way for later Ukrainian noir authors such as Yuri Andrukhovych and Serhiy Zhadan, who continue to explore the dark side of Ukrainian society in their work. The Pre-1917 History of Ukraine Noir is an important part of the genre’s evolution and provides valuable insights into the cultural and historical context that has shaped Ukrainian crime fiction.

4. Soviet Period: Emergence of a Unique Ukrainian Noir Genre

During the Soviet period, Ukraine experienced a cultural awakening that gave birth to a unique Ukrainian Noir genre. This genre emerged as a response to the oppressive political climate of the time, as well as the social and economic challenges faced by Ukrainians. Ukrainian Noir was characterized by its dark and brooding atmosphere, its complex characters, and its exploration of the human condition.

It was a reflection of the anxieties and fears of the Ukrainian people, and it provided a voice for those who were silenced by the Soviet regime. Ukrainian Noir was also heavily influenced by the works of Russian authors such as Fyodor Dostoevsky and Nikolai Gogol, as well as American Noir writers like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Some of the most notable works of Ukrainian Noir from this period include “The White Guard” by Mikhail Bulgakov and “The Twelve Chairs” by Ilf and Petrov. These works continue to be celebrated today for their unique perspective on Ukrainian history and culture.

5. Post-Soviet Period: Development and Proliferation of Ukraine Noir

The post-Soviet period marked a significant turning point in the development and proliferation of Ukraine Noir. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine gained its independence and underwent a period of political, economic, and social transformation. This period of transition brought about a sense of uncertainty, instability, and disillusionment, which was reflected in the emerging genre of Ukraine Noir.

The genre, which draws inspiration from the hard-boiled detective fiction of the United States, is characterized by its gritty realism, bleak outlook, and exploration of the darker side of human nature. The post-Soviet period provided a fertile ground for the growth of Ukraine Noir, as it offered a rich source of material for writers to explore the complexities of Ukrainian society and its people. The genre has since become an important part of the literary landscape of Ukraine, with a growing number of writers and readers embracing its unique style and perspective.

6. Examples of Notable Noir Movies

One of the more recent and interesting movies in Ukraine noir genre is The Tribe (2014): Winner of multiple 2014 Cannes Film Festival Awards (including the coveted Critics’ Week Grand Prix), Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s The Tribe is an undeniably original and intense feature debut set in the insular world of a Ukrainian high school for the deaf.

The Tribe unfolds through the non-verbal acting and sign language from a cast of deaf, non-professional actors—with no need for subtitles or voice over––resulting in a unique, never-before-experienced cinematic event that engages the audience on a new sensory level.

Teenage Sergey (Grigoriy Fesenko), a new student at the boarding school, realizes immediately that he must prove himself worthy to be brought under the protective wing of the school gang’s leader to survive unscathed. After an indoctrination of harmless initiation pranks and rites, Sergey’s new-found clique soon introduces him to their common activities of robbery, bribery and prostitution. At first assimilating seamlessly into his new role in the tribe, he finds himself compromised as he begins to fall in love with his female classmate—and one of the gang’s escorts—triggering a sequence of stunningly diabolical events.

The Tribe is truly singular cinematic experience that should be seen on the big screen whenever possible. In support of this achievement, Drafthouse Films is releasing the film only in theaters throughout 2015 as part of a nationwide tour of exclusive theatrical playdates.

Pawnshop (2013) is another great example: it’s an adventure and crime film directed by Liubomyr Levytskyi.

[Spoiler alert]: The scene takes place in the present in the abstract city of Lemberg. The picture consists of three storylines that are cleverly intertwined. The main characters — two Lembergian guys, Mark and Yasha (Denys Nikiforov and Pavlo Piskun), know the street and know how to get everything you need for life. Mark called a noble bandit, and Yasha, on the contrary, everything is decided with the help of intelligence. Passing difficult twists and turns in his youth, the brothers begin to look for stability.

It was one of those days they get the news of the inheritance. Them is known in a pawn shop and its owner at the moment is their uncle Felix. Arriving at the pawn shop for their guys receive a sharp rebuff. Mark and Yasha decide: any way to get the inheritance. Their opinions differ, and each comes up with his plan.

7. Conclusion

In conclusion, the history of Ukraine Noir is a fascinating and complex one that has evolved over time. From its roots in the Soviet era to its modern-day manifestations, Ukraine Noir has been shaped by a variety of factors, including political upheaval, economic instability, and cultural influences. Despite the challenges it has faced, Ukraine Noir has continued to thrive and evolve, attracting a growing audience of fans and admirers around the world.

As we look to the future, it is clear that Ukraine Noir will continue to play an important role in the cultural landscape of Ukraine and beyond. Whether you are a fan of the genre or simply interested in learning more about this unique and compelling aspect of Ukrainian culture, there is no doubt that the history of Ukraine Noir is one that is worth exploring in greater depth. So why not dive in and discover all that this fascinating genre has to offer?


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