Culture In Depth, 03/02/2020

Burning Kremlin and Caricature on Putin: Kharkivites Admire ‘Lethal Kittens’ Comedy

Since the last days of January 2020, the screening of “Lethal Kittens” (Ukrainian: “Nashi Kotyky”) comedy on the Russian-Ukrainian war in Donbas, has started all over Ukraine. The premier boomed in Kharkiv in an unprecedented way.

“Hilarious, realistic and good for children”

Many Kharkiv civil and war volunteers shared their emotions on their blogs after the premier, having called the movie “hilarious” and “trustworthy.” The filmmakers who shot the movie about the hardest days in Ukrainian history believe that the genre of comedy will help Ukrainians overcome their post-war traumas. Therefore, the audience’s emotional feedback meets these expectations entirely.

Leonid Maslov, a veteran of the war in the east and Sense Consulting law company’s general director, says that the cinema hall was full and the audience was laughing and applauding during the screening. Most of the viewers say that the frame of the burning Kremlin at the very beginning was fun. “What I liked the best was, of course, the ridiculous Putin and the scene of burying of Russian soldiers with the grave plate saying “They are not there” [Kh.O.: A quotation of Putin’s infamous deceitful denial of Russian forces in Crimea and Donbas “There are no Russian soldiers there,” which became a widespread meme]. Also, the scene with the dead bodies of Russian soldiers falling out of a truck had me and the whole audience in stitches.” The war veteran admits that this black comedy even if naive and eccentric delivers some profound thoughts and insights into Russian hybrid war.

“The characters and situations presented in the film are so familiar and realistic that sometimes it’s hard to realize this is just a movie,” claims Iryna Markevych, psychologist and volunteer of Ukrainian National Plast organization. “I liked the character called Professor the most, probably because we are similar somehow. The scene when two guys were digging up their backfilled bunker and one of them was shooting out and the Chaplain was saying ‘Our Father’ – that was great, and many people in the cinema hall were praying with him. This resembled brightly the war situation in the summer 2014 – winter 2015.”

The Kharkivites are convinced it is a good film for children and teenagers as the scenes of destruction of the enemies do not contain any violence and it is more like a fairy tale with killing dragons or other fictional characters. “I attended the film screening with two boys of our Plast organization, aged 8 and 10, and my 10-year-old daughter. The kids admired every moment of it. And when one of them saw some children’s drawings torn by blast splinters, he said, “We need to send the soldiers some new drawings.” [Kh.O.: Children’s drawings sent to the Ukrainian soldiers are believed to protect them and are kept with love at combat area in Donbas].

Kharkiv residents also state that “Lethal Kittens” are somehow similar to “Inglorious Bastards” by Quentin Tarantino. “The characters of both films are volunteers; they are not supermen by no means. Just ordinary people with ordinary jobs. But when the enemy occupies their land, they rise to defeat it,” Iryna Markevych indicates. “I also agree that surviving the war is impossible without humor, according to Sun Tzu, a Chinese military general, strategist and philosopher quoted in ‘Lethal Kittens’ as well.”

Laughter as Remedy and National Feature

The creative team fully shares the view about the important role of humor at war. “We were always joking at the front. Especially, by making fun of the enemy. As humor is the best remedy for the horror and misery that comes with the war,” confesses the war veteran and one of the leading film actors Dmytro Tuboltsev. “Humor often helps us to go through not the best moments of our life, to explain the complicated things with simple language. That’s why talking about the war in a comedy is considered normal,” Volodymyr Tykhyy, the film director and screenwriter, continues.

In his interview to Kharkiv Observer, the film director claimed, “There has not been such a movie in Ukraine yet.  But the story itself resembles the historical fact when the Cossacks wrote a letter to the Turkish sultan. Only instead of Cossacks come our volunteers, and instead of the Sultan, Russian terrorists in the east are depicted.”

Volodymyr Tykhyy recalls that the idea of the war film came back in 2015, when together with Valery Puzik, the veteran of the war in Donbas, they decided to make a military-themed series named “Bunker” (Ukrainian: “Blindage”) which was supposed to consist of 12 short episodes. They tried to engage some leading Ukrainian TV channels as partners, but have not received support. So, the three filmed episodes were published online and became incredibly popular. “Some soldiers and volunteers started sending in their military fables, funny stories and even videos.  Therefore, it became obvious that there is a huge demand for military comedy. And we decided to make a feature film,” notes Volodymyr Tykhyy. They launched the filmmaking process together with Babylon’13 co-founder Mark Suprun in 2017.

“As for the movie’s name it came from the volunteers who called the Ukrainian warriors ‘our kittens’,” specifies the film director. “The initial name “Bunker” was more associated with military issues rather than the patriotic comedy that the movie really depicts. And we are changing the conventional attitude to war topic as to solely heroic and the pompous, which goes from Soviet times; we are making this issue close to every Ukrainian.”

Most of the film making process was funded by private investors. Interestingly one of the film producers was Stepan Bandera, the grandson and namesake of the famous Ukrainian national ideologist and leader. Another producer was Ulana Suprun, a popular Ukrainian-American physician and activist, who served as the acting Minister of Healthcare in Ukraine from 2016 to 2019.

The film has been distributed in Ukraine since January 30, 2020. Its trailer has already stirred a wave of fierce indignation on Russian TV.

Text: Olena Sokolynska

Photo: Iryna Markevych, Glavkom