Yuriy Illienko

Swan Lake: The Zone (1990)

Swan Lake: The Zone is a potent allegory for the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fugitive subjects inhabiting its ruins. In dense and memorable images, and with very little dialogue, the film tells the story of a man who escapes from a notorious Ukrainian prison and hides in a huge hammer and sickle monument on the outskirts of a bleak industrial town, a moment captured in the scene chosen here. A love story ensues, but ends badly for the fugitive, who cannot escape the “zone” of the prison even as the country is collapsing.

The film’s plot was conceived by legendary filmmaker Sergei Parajanov while serving a sentence in a Soviet prison—for homosexuality and trafficking in art and antiquities—but was only shot after his death. The director, Yuriy Ilienko, was Parajanov’s close collaborator and had already won several major awards. Swan Lake was the first independent international coproduction of post-Soviet Ukraine. Illienko later evolved into a controversial figure in the politics of his native country, becoming one of the founders of Svoboda, a radical right-wing party often accused of neo-Nazism.

Yuriy Illienko (1936, Cherkasy, Ukraine – 2010, Prokhorivka, Ukraine) was a film director and screenwriter. Early on in his career, he collaborated closely with Sergei Parajanov, contributing as director of photography to his famous Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965). He directed twelve films between 1965 and 2002, among them The White Bird Marked with Black (1970), which was entered into the 7th Moscow International Film Festival and won the Golden Prize. Illienko was one of Ukraine's most influential filmmakers, and his films were banned in the USSR for their suspected anti-Soviet symbolism. Late in life, he unsuccessfully ran for Ukrainian parliament with the ultra-nationalist party Svoboda.

35 mm film, 96′, 10′ excerpt