Swan Lake: The Zone + Talk

The story of an escaped prisoner hiding in a dilapidated hammer-and-sickle monument delivers a profound allegory of the Soviet Union.
Part of Kyiv Critics’ Week x De Balie

Yuriy Ilyenko
Sergei Parajanov
running time
Soviet Ukraine, Sweden, Canada
Year of production
Program maker
Stefan Malešević
Stefan Malešević
In collaboration with
Kyiv Critics’ Week

An escaped prisoner seeks refuge inside a Soviet monument, where he gets visited by a woman who dreams of a new life. They fall in love, but chance intervenes when the monument needs to be repainted, forcing his return to prison. Upon a miraculous recovery from an almost lethal mistake, he faces the grim reality of his impending fate.

This screening is presented as part of the KCW x De Balie collaboration, taking place from May 17th to May 21st. Under the banner of “Double Exposure: Ukraine in the 90s“, we will showcase films that were either shot in 90s Ukraine or depict this period of national awakening. Each screening will be followed by a conversation between one of the KCW curators and a Dutch film critic, while the closing event features a live music performance. See the full program and get your tickets for other events here.

Info about speakers

Daria Badior is a Ukrainian film critic, editor, and co-curator of Kyiv Critics’ Week. Her work was published by Ukrainian and international publishers: The Independent, Der Tagesspiegel, Suspilne Kultura, Dwutygodnyk, Osteuropa, Kino Raksti, and others. She is a co-founder of the Union of Ukrainian Film Critics.

Ronald Glasbergen is a Rotterdam based publicist, art- and film curator and artist. His work and his studies in film sciences are driven by interest in and beyond the borders between truth and fabula in life and in documentary and creative narratives.

Daria Badior’s introduction of the film

A powerful and stunningly shot allegorical fable depicting the pursuit of freedom that remains perpetually out of reach, ‘Swan Lake. The Zone.’ is based on stories written by Sergei Paradjanov while incarcerated in the very prison where the film was shot. It stands as one of the last examples of Ukrainian poetic cinema—a direction taken by Ukrainian-Soviet filmmakers in the 1960s, who favored symbolism over the realism imposed by ‘official’ Soviet art. The director, Yuriy Illenko, was one of the most important Ukrainian filmmakers and cinematographers (he was the DoP on “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors”).
In the opening scene, we see the main protagonist, a middle-aged man with no name, running from the prison across the fields, breathing heavily, finding refuge in a narrow tin monument of hammer-and-sickle. A symbol of the Soviet state already in the process of collapsing at the time when this film was in the making, performs as a metaphor for a suffocating space which the Soviet Union was for many people. With a highly unconventional narrative structure, the film evokes a visceral sense of the protagonist’s profound lack of freedom and the overwhelming prevalence of fate.

KCW x De Balie collaboration was made possible with the financial contributions of Steunfonds Oekraïense makersDutch Foundation for Literature and Embassy of Ukraine in the Kingdom of The Netherlands.


Daria BadiorUkrainian film critic
Ronald GlasbergenDutch film critic