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Volcano 2018

Volcano | Vulkan | Вулкан


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Lukas, an interpreter for a military mission, gets lost near a remote Ukrainian village and stumbles from simple misadventure into the weirdest road trip of his life.

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About the Volcano 💬

A series of odd coincidences has left Lukas (Serhiy Stepansky), an interpreter for an OSCE military checkpoint inspection tour, stranded near a small southern Ukrainian steppe town.

''Nobody's going to look for you here...''

Viktor Zhdanov as Volodymir

With nowhere to turn, this city boy finds shelter at the home of a colorful local named Vova (Viktor Zhdanov). With Vova as his guide, Lukas is confronted by a universe beyond his imagination, one in which life seems utterly detached from any identifiable structure. Fascinated by his host and enamored of his daughter Marushka (Khrystyna Deilyk), Lukas's contempt for their life slowly melts away and sets him on a quest for the happiness he had never known could exist.

''I came because of the fifth seven-year circle.''

Serhiy Stepansky as Lukas

Volcano is the feature debut of acclaimed director Roman Bondarchuk, known for his documentaries Euromaidan. Rough Cut (2014), Ukrainian Sheriffs (2015) and Dixie Land (2016).


I discovered the unique universe of the south Ukrainian steppe through my wife's uncle, Vova, who lived there and who was constantly coming up with crazy business ideas. Once, he suggested to dig up the bones from German soldiers from the Second World War in his garden and sell them to the relatives in Germany. This seemed so absurd to me that I decided to follow him with a camera to get a better understanding of his life and the area where he lived.

In this deserted land, during a very dramatic moment of history in my country, I found a wild and forgotten place of anarchy; a new provincial order, where people live their own lives, some of them even without any documents or connection to the state. Living in the city, it is hard to imagine a magical place like this, where people still see mirages, with local feudals, private security groups on watermelon fields and checkpoints in the middle of nowhere exists.

I wanted to find out why people stay there, what keeps them from leaving? And is it possible to find yourself or at least survive there?

Roman Bondarchuk


''We take the juice from the watermelons and cook it down until there's nothing left but sugar, and then we work it into the shape of this thing that we have: our lives.''

Richard Brautigan

Q: In films, we often talk about ourselves, in one way or another. Roman, Dar'ya, whom among the Volcano protagonists do you identify with most?

Roman Bondarchuk: There are some similarities between myself and the protagonist Lukas. In 2008, on our way to the seaside, we drove to Beryslav to visit Dar'ya's uncle Vova. The day before, he had seen a story on TV about a man who dug out bones of a German soldier and sold them for a large sum of money. He also knew we worked together with some German film producers for another project and said that the only thing he needed was a metal detector and connections in Germany. He desperately tried to find himself something to do, otherwise, he would go mad. Thanks to uncle Vova and his fantastic projects I started to understand the surrealism of that land. Although I originally come from the Kherson region, I am still, like Lukas, an observer with whom the locals share their philosophy and their truth.

Dar'ya Averchenko: My mother's family lived in Beryslav. We often visited my grandmother and uncle Vova. So for me, the script was like a documentary: the core characters are based on my grandmother and uncle. In the process of writing the script, it was as if I merged with each of my family members, I started to understand them better. Three people worked on the script: I, Roman and writer Alla Tyutyunnyk - her grandmother was from Mylove, which was drowned in the Water Reservoir, and her parents are from the village of Sablukivka, which now stands right on the shore of the artificial lake.

People here still remember the Great Grassland, the floodplains, and how vegetables grew in the flooded lands. And then, for three years, right in front of people's eyes, the water rose slowly, engulfing the floodplains and the houses - more than 90 villages. For several years, when spring came, migratory birds flew in circles above the water, looking for their family nesting places; they could not find them and just died. And that was it, only dead treetops stuck out of the giant water surface, and coffins from the flooded old cemeteries floated between them... This experience is disconcerting even as a story. It gives us an understanding of the place.

Q: You have been working on this film since 2008. Many things have happened since. Did the script change over time?

Roman Bondarchuk: Yes, back then, there was no occupation of Crimea, or war in the East, or OSCE visits. But life in the country was changing, we were changing, and the script was changing, too. For me, there is nothing false or untrue in the film. Still, there is an author's ''angle'' in it. But what remains constant throughout the film and throughout the Beryslav reality is the sense of humor with which these people take some essentially disastrous things.

Dar'ya Averchenko: Actually, this is the only thing that saves them amid the disasters: their irony and self-irony.

Q: How clear was the film's idea to your producers outside of Ukraine? Was it difficult to pitch a film on the life of Ukrainians outside of the capital, not set on Maidan, not in the ATO, but in the wild steppe?

Dar'ya Averchenko: For European funds, it was important to justify the realities of our country. It was very hard to explain that our reality contains not only disasters but also something that allows us not to lose optimism, even in the extreme circumstances that we live in. Especially given that the European world has developed a myth about hopeless and bleak post-Soviet countries. But actually, not everything is hopeless here.

Q: In the film, you also show a rather dangerous reality. In the first scene, we see a beautiful and fateful entry into another world: a barge slowly sailing into a gate that leads - where?

Roman Bondarchuk: This world is not what it looks like at first. You need to monitor everything you say here. It's all turned upside-down.

Dar'ya Averchenko: Even the villages in this area are not called by the names that are written on maps, but by the names of the kolkhozes (collective farms in the Soviet Union). These kolkhozes are in ruins, but, for example, everyone still calls the village of Maksym Gorki by the name ''Cosmos.''

It is difficult for me to explain, but the air there is ''thick,'' as if the place has accumulated the energies of all the historic events that happened on those hills. In the 15th century, there was a Lithuanian Customs building where now Beryslav is; then the fortress was occupied by Crimean Tatars, and later by Ottomans, who built several other fortresses here, one of which was the legendary Kyzy-Kerman. They defended against Zaporizhia Cossacks who, in the end, defeated the Ottomans under the leadership of Mazepa. I am certain that in Beryslav, you can physically feel all these different periods.

Q: Feature and documentary films are two different ways of interacting with reality. When does this trick with ''typecasting'' work, and when doesn't it?

Roman Bondarchuk: Working with ''types'' is harder than hiring an actor. But you see fantastic faces and their unique experiences, which you can observe in their movements and in the positions of their hands, legs, their body.

Q: The protagonist, Lukas, is not played by a type character or a professional actor, but by one of the best Ukrainian sound directors, Serhiy Stepansky. Why him?

Roman Bondarchuk: We were looking for the protagonist among professional actors and had dozens of casting sessions. But then Serhiy came and did all the dialogues as if they were his own, as if he really experienced them. Then there was no point in looking for an actor to play Lucas anymore.

The documentary luck also played out in the scene with the ''molecular glue.'' Two of our main actors rehearsed the sale of the glue in the middle of the market. And actual customers started coming up to them and asking about the price. We made a scene in which random passers-by bought out nearly all props. When we wanted to do another take and asked the customers to give the ''glue'' back, people just ran off, because they didn't believe it was a film shooting. One man shouted, ''I've been looking for this glue since 1995, and I'm not giving anything to anyone!'' After that, the whole town reeked of plastic which was melted on gas stoves, according to the instructions on the package, but it turned out that our prop makers didn't find the actual glue and used fake plastic.

Q: Essentially it was this documentary environment that created the combination of mystery, western, comedy, mockumentary, kitsch - all the shapes and rhythms that the film contains. How did you prioritize, both in terms of the genre and in terms of the visual aspect of the story?

Roman Bondarchuk: From the very beginning, we decided that the means must be very simple. We only filmed with the tripod or carried the camera in our hands. We followed the environment and looked at what it had to offer and what it had to say. We spent most of the time looking for locations. Vova's house was one of the last places we found, it's in the Novovorontsovka district, and there's practically no road that leads there. We wanted to have the range and the width of Vova's soul: unfulfilled plans to become wealthy and have a big family. There are many houses like this one over there, but in the one we filmed, you can feel a potential future. Then we had rehearsals at the locations, and watched in awe how a baroque amalgam of genres and meanings was being born.

There was a specific moment in which our work changed its tone: it was when we were preparing the honorary board for one of the scenes. The idea was to make it in a contemporary style, with eye-popping colors, plastic flowers, with the portraits of the nurse, the businessman, the council member. The idea was to show the respected people of our reality, where everyone pretends to be someone they are not. But we accidentally found parts of an actual board, with faded faces, with eyes you can no longer meet nowadays. We only added to it a picture of the older Lucas with a beard. The interesting thing is that a similar board could have stood here in the past 70 years, unchanged. And that is the element that asks one of the central questions of the film, that provokes doubt in the audience: are all these people on the board even real and alive?

Volcano Movie Details 🎥

Directed by

Roman Bondarchuk

Writing Credits

Alla Tyutyunnik (Written by)

Roman Bondarchuk and Dar'ya Averchenko (Co-writer)


Serhiy Stepansky

Viktor Zhdanov

Khrystyna Deilyk

Tamara Sotsenko

Cinematography by

Vadym Ilkov

Genres: Comedy, Drama

Countries: Ukraine, Germany, Monaco

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