A forgotten masterpiece

The movie “The Eve of Ivan Kupala” is perhaps one of the most intrigues movies I have ever seen. The movie is based on Nikolai Gogol’s short story “The Eve of Ivan Kupala” (or “S:t John’s Eve” in translation). I did read the short story by Gogol a couple of years ago, but can’t say my imagination was able to create anything like this movie. The director, Yuri Ilyenko, has made a very independent interpretation of Petro’s pact with the devil, or what is thought to be the devil.


Petro’s meeting with the devil at Bear’s Ravine

The story is, as I told above, based on a short story by Gogol. Gogol has in his turn interpreted and collected Ukrainian folk tales. The story circles about the poor peasant Petro that falls in love with Pidorka. She is much richer than Petro, and her father disagree to their love. Finially her father forbid him to ever see her again, and Petro tries to make everything in his power to see her. He gets so desperate that he makes a pact with a stranger in town, that possibly could be seen as the devil. To make a long story very short, Petro agrees to blood shred in order to get the gold so he can get his Pidorka back. After protests he agrees to kill the child, in order to get the gold. Petro wakes up after two days Petro, unable to reember how he got the money.

Yuri Ilyenko has created a nonlinear masterpiece, with very little dialogue. He has left a lot of space for your own imagination and interpretation. But the fact that it isn’t easy to follow only makes the narration more complex and intrigues.

The movie was made in 1968 but wasn’t released until 1989. I believe it could be because the spoken language is Ukrainian, which was rather controversial to use in Soviet days. If anyone can fill me in why this movie was “forgotten” about for so long, I would be more than thankful. I can’t find much info about the movie, even though I have been looking almost everywhere.

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2 Responses to “A forgotten masterpiece”


  • Thanks for posting that.

    You’re right that Illienko’s problems with the Soviet censors included the fact that he filmed in Ukrainian, but it went beyond that. He worked with some of the leading writers, poets, and artists of the Ukrainian “new wave” (if one can call it that; “poetic cinema” is the more customary title, though that eventually became official). That movement, with its focus on national identity and folklore, developed in the wake of the Khrushchev “thaw,” but by the end of the 1960s was being squelched from above. Some of its most active figures would get sentenced to years of imprisonment in the early 1970s; many, like Paradjanov, were barely allowed to do anything after 1972 or so.

    I actually thought that Eve of Ivan Kupalo was more or less suppressed (though it had some screenings initially) for about twenty years. Another of Illienko’s films, A Well for the Thirsty, which was intended as a kind of post-Holodomor update of Dovzhenko’s Earth (the Holodomor being the genocidal Stalin-imposed collectivization of the early 1930s), was completely suppressed until the Gorbachev era.

  • Thank you for your comment! It is very interesting for me to read this, since it is had to find any info about Ukrainian movies. And I find it especially interesting what you say about the Ukrainian “new wave”. I must look into that : )

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