It’s been a while since the angst and effervescence of youth have been as realistically depicted as they are in Ukrainian writer-director Kateryna Gornostai’s feature-length debut Stop-Zemlia. With the keen eye of a seasoned documentarian, the filmmaker captures all the depression, anxiety, boredom, love, loathing, and insecurity of seemingly apathetic teens, her gaze never mocking or judging. Nor does she over-romanticize that period in our lives when raging hormones guide us and torment us in equal measure. Instead, what the drama demonstrates, in a quietly assured manner, is that times may change and locations may differ, but we all continue to go through the same thing.
The title refers to the game that Gornostai’s central quartet of teenagers – Masha (Masha Fedorchenko), Senia (Senia Markov), Yana (Yana Isaienko), and Sasha (Sasha Ivanov) – play. It involves stumbling around a playground with your eyes closed, trying to avoid bumping against obstacles. The rules are as disorienting and vague and exciting and pointless as life seems when you’re 17. Without much of a plot, the filmmaker simply observes her protagonists, along with some of their classmates. This style allows the themes and truths to surface naturally. It’s all really quite remarkable for how unremarkable it all is.
“…captures all the depression, anxiety, boredom, love, loathing, and insecurity of seemingly apathetic teens…”
Nuances and little gestures speak volumes: a couple of cold and brief exchanges between Masha and her brother; a borderline-Oedipal relationship between a young man and his desperate, single mother; a bonding that involves cutting and making out; a few rounds of spin-the-bottle, and spilled wine on a white carpet. Rarely does Gornostai allow herself to veer into what some may call pretentiousness – such as a game of badminton against a rising wind, or blood pouring out of a vein-like thick gooey glitter – but even these moments gel naturally as if the narrative itself were a teenager whose imagination and emotions vacillated wildly.
Consequently, Stop-Zemlia creates a euphoric mood through the melancholic mostly-electronic score, the subdued tones of cinematographer Oleksandr Roshchyn’s imagery – and primarily via the constantly-cursing heroes, as sullen as they are joyous, as afraid as they are brash. This euphoria lingers long after the credits roll, reminding one of the days when the future seemed eternal, and blood indeed felt like glitter. “Maybe I’m lonely, but it doesn’t bother me,” a young man states to the camera at one point. We all know how he truly feels.
"…euphoria lingers long after the credits roll..."