Conventional cinematic dystopian futures almost always compensate for their bleakness with nifty gadgets or, at the very least, incredibly fast and dangerous cars chasing one another. Not “Atlantis,” Ukraine’s official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar this year. Written, directed and shot by Valentyn Vasyanovych, the movie is an especially economical, even ruthless exercise in what could be called “slow cinema,” with no shiny widgets in sight.
This is in part because the future in which “Atlantis” is set is extremely not-too-distant: 2025, to be exact, in the aftermath of an incredibly destructive war between Ukraine and Russia. PTSD-riven ex-soldiers Ivan and Sergei let off steam with target practice, which gets heated, ending with one plugging the other in the bulletproof vest.
At work in a massive factory — one that seems to produce lava-like sludge, essentially — Ivan (Vasyl Antoniak) commits an act that results in a shutdown, and in a lot of resentment against Sergiy (Andriy Rymaruk). Sergiy then finds a gig driving a water truck. This is a necessity in their land, as naturally potable water is scarce. He soon forms an alliance with a young woman, Katya (Liudmyla Bileka), who exhumes, and tries to identify, the war dead.
The story is told in single long takes with a mostly static camera — Vasyanovych’s style is informed by both Kubrick and early Jim Jarmusch. The topography depicted in these shots is startling, starkly insisting that we humans really do live on a rock. The movie’s visual language sometimes expands as its emotional temperature heats up; there’s actually a dissolve near the end.
Sergiy and Katya’s home is, an ecologist tells Sergiy near the end, all but uninhabitable in its current state. But it’s where they found each other, and it’s their country. Vasyanovych and his actors manage to make this parable both heartening and stupefying.
Not rated. In Ukrainian, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 46 minutes. Watch on Metrograph.
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