Rock Paper Grenade
Я і Фелікс
Country: Ukraine Year: 2022 Running time: 92 min. Genre: drama, coming-of-age Director: Iryna Tsilyk (The Earth Is Blue as an Orange) Cast: Yurii Izdryk, Vladyslav Baliuk, Anastasiia Karpenko

The story of the boy Timofii growing up in the 90s, his family, friends, first love and relationship with the former counter-intelligence officer Felix, who became part of his family.

Curator of the program 'Focus: Ukraine – United Kingdom' Rich Cline:

Set in the 1990s, Rock. Paper. Grenade. takes a warmly humorous approach that adds startlingly resonance to an exploration of the generational impact of war and conflict. With her narrative feature debut, following on from her Sundance and Berlin award-winning 2020 documentary The Earth Is Blue as an Orange, filmmaker Iryna Tsilyk resists overstating the themes, allowing ideas to emerge from offbeat perspectives. While avoiding the usual tricks of the coming-of-age genre, Tsilik also infuses scenes with musical beats and a strong dose of black comedy.

At the centre is the curious young Tima, played as a child, teen and adult by Andriy Cherednyk, Vladyslav Baliuk and Volodymyr Gladky. Sparks fly when his grandmother Lida (Halyna Veretelnyk-Stephanova) brings her new boyfriend Felix (Yuriy Izdryk) into the home, much to the annoyance of Tima's mother Olya (Anastasia Karpenko). But Tima is entranced by the stories Felix tells about the Afghan war, and how he copes with post-traumatic stress by playing classical music on the piano. In Felix, Tima also finds a more involved father figure than his actual deadbeat dad (Andriy Isaenko).

Tsilyk co-wrote the script with her husband Artem Chekh, based on his autobiographical novel. So the film is packed with knowing details that bring the characters and situations to colourful life, finding the joy in people whose lives have been upended by war. Strong evocations of the period give the film an almost timeless quality, drawing unexpected parallels with more recent events. And an often whimsical visual style makes the most of the terrific sets and locations, captured with offhanded energy and beauty by cinematographer Vyacheslav Tsvetkov and editor Ivan Bannikov.

Because the characters are grounded by their idiosyncrasies, the ensemble cast is able to have some fun with their performances, adding witty touches while finding currents of feeling. For example, Felix calls Tima "sergeant" and often seems to be on some sort of secret mission, while the teen Tima is criticised by his girlfriend Toma (Olexandra Semenko) because all he wants to do with her is smooch. Into these kinds of interactions, Tsilyk and Chekh skilfully and subtly weave real-life emotional depth. This gives the film a loose authenticity that transcends the place and time.

Rock. Paper. Grenade. was completed before the events of February 24th, and Tsilyk was already working on a new narrative drama as well as a documentary essay exploring the existential tension between Russia and Ukraine. She believes that it's important for Ukrainian artists to continue speaking up defiantly. “Is writing poetry possible after Auschwitz? How can we make films after Mariupol?” Tsilyk said recently to Screen Daily. “My task is telling stories to the world. I believe that’s important and I know that silence could be a kind of crime too.”

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