Mavka: The Forest Song

Peter W Sheehan 3 April 2023

This animated Ukrainian film tells the story of Mavka, guardian and soul of the forest. Her mission is to protect the forest and its heart against aggression and intrusion, especially by humans.

MAVKA: THE FOREST SONG. This film has been made in Ukraine under difficult conditions, and is voiced in English. Directed by Oleksandra Ruban and Oleh Malamuzh. Voiced by Nataliya Denisenko, Yulia Sanina, Artem Pivovarov, Elena Kravets and others. Rated PG (Mild fantasy themes and animated violence, some scenes may scare young children). 99 min.

The film is based on the fairy-tale drama, “The Forest Song”, written by author, poet and activist Lesya Ukrainka. The film vibrantly and authentically promotes Ukrainian culture, and incorporates strong mythological imagery. Mavka is a female character drawn from Ukrainian legends. She stands for peace and love above hate, and good will above evil.

In the film, Mavka is newly appointed as Guardian of the Forest and pledged to protect the forest and its heart, the Source of Life, against unwelcome intrusion and aggression, especially by humans. In caring for the forest, Mavka falls in love with a village boy called Lucas who entrances her by playing his wooden flute to wondrous effect.

For the first time, Mavka experiences conflict between duty and love. Evil erupts when Kylina, a sinister force, viciously threatens Mavka and Lucas’ new-found love. Does true love prevail and harmony and joy return to the forest?

Mavka: The Forest Song is an outstanding fantasy film made in the midst of the Ukrainian war with Russia. The making of the film was postponed and delayed by frequent armed shelling and gunfire, and the film’s production took place in buildings and settings subject to violent assault, civil unrest, and massive property destruction. Work frequently had to stop, and resume after bombing. This film was made by Ukrainians, who left the film’s Production Studios to fight, but who then returned to do the work that was necessary to finish the film.

There is no sign of technical mishaps in the fantasy images, continuity and flow of this film at all. Its imagery is richly coloured, vivid, and impactful, and tells the film’s vibrant story, dramatically and forcefully. The Art Direction is exceptional. Violence occurs, but it integrates well with the film’s storyline. Kylina is the fantasy character committed to attacking the Soul and Heart of the Forest, and she is the figure around which most of the heavy action is focused. An outstanding feature of the film is its thorough endorsement of peace, happiness and love. “The only magic humans have is love”, the film says, and that message is communicated coherently in a heartfelt way that is exceptional for a film made in the middle of war.

There are scary scenes in the film that emanate from Kylina’s evil intent. The advice to viewers given in the film’s classification rating gives proper warning to parents choosing the film, but adults might usefully accompany their children to talk about the richness of the film’s meaning. This is excellent fantasy cinema. A well-produced and well-directed fantasy film from Ukraine has graced the cinema screen at a remarkable time, and in a remarkable way.

While The Guide (2014), directed by Oles Sanin, is an exceptional Ukrainian film that was nominated for Best Foreign Language film at the Oscars, Ukrainian cinema productions tend not to be as well known outside its geographical area. This eagerly awaited film that has such a special history behind its making, should be good enough to turn the tide in making the wider cinema-going world aware of Ukrainian cinema’s creativity.

Rialto Distribution

Released in 200 cinemas nationally from 6 April 2023