The Guide (known in Ukrainian as Поводир, або Квіти мають очі, or “The Guide, or Flowers Have Eyes”) is a 2014 Ukrainian drama directed by Oles Sanin (Олесь Санін), one of Ukraine’s best-loved homegrown filmmakers. He is also known for 2003’s Mamay. The film is based on true events—that of the repression of the kobzars (кобзар, blind bards) in Kharkiv in the 1930s, though little is actually known for sure about this event. The film also takes place under the background of the Holodomor (Голодомор), the massive Ukrainian famine of the same time period.

The film takes place in 1930s Soviet Ukraine. An American engineer with a strong belief in the ideals of socialism has come to Ukraine, along with his 10-year-old son, to fight the good fight. But after he is killed for stealing confidential documents, his son, Peter, is stranded in Ukraine. With no other options for survival, he ends up becoming a guide for a kobzar, Ivan Kocherga. The kobzar raises the young American to believe in the beauty of the world despite the atrocities he has witnessed—the film’s slogan is “Close your eyes. See with your heart.” But the film also tells the story of a truly dramatic, critical period in Ukrainian history.

As befits its subject matter, the film was also created in a special version to be accessible to the blind. A number of actual contemporary kobzars also participated in the filming of several scenes. The main actor in the film, Stanislav Bokan (Станіслав Боклан), who played the kobzar, wore special lenses so that he wouldn’t be able to see during the filming. And a random but interesting fact: Serhiy Zhadan (Сергій Жадан), probably Ukraine’s most famous contemporary writer, had a small cameo as a poet in the film.

The film received a number of honors, among them several prizes and nominations at international film festivals. It also did surprisingly well at the box office in its first weekend.

 

Director: Oles Sanin (Олесь Санін)
Stars: Stanislav Boklan (Станіслав Боклан), Anton Grin (Антон Грін), Oleksandr Kobzar (Олександр Кобзар), Jeff Barrell, Jamala (Джамала), Oleg Primogenov (Олег Примогенов)
Production company: Pronto Film
Box office take: $905,000

 

Official trailer:

 

Guide

Julie is currently studying Russian as a Second Language in Irkutsk (and before that, Bishkek) with SRAS's Home and Abroad Scholarship program, with the goal of someday having some sort of Russia/Eurasia-related career. She recently got her master’s degree from the University of Glasgow and the University of Tartu, where she studied women’s dissent in Soviet Russia. She also has a bachelor’s degree in literature from Yale. Some of her favorite Russian authors are Sorokin, Shishkin, Il’f and Petrov, and Akhmatova. In her spare time Julie cautiously practices martial arts, reads feminist websites, and taste-tests instant coffee for her blog.