To be on the cusp of adulthood, where the distinction between childhood and maturity becomes blurred – with all the emotional confusion that this can provoke – is undeniably a subject that has been explored countless times before. There’s little that’s surprising about Stop-Zemila, but its version of these motifs is told with sensitivity and wisdom.
Mascha (Maria Fedorchenko) and her friends are in the last year of high school, looking anxiously and/or defiantly towards what lies ahead. It’s alluded to that the protagonist is grappling with depression, although this is a feature of her story rather than a theme: it’s mentioned, but not discussed. As the school year draws to a close, Mascha struggles to live in the moment without becoming overwhelmed by the future.
At times the Stop-Zemlia briefly feels like a Ukrainian remake of Skins, with its representation of the lightheartedness and occasional volatility of youth. The piece succinctly captures the intense affection that can be a hallmark of the teenage years, with the romantic and platonic crushes one can have on their circle of friends. Director Kateryna Gornostai confidently guides her feature in a way that allows it to meander while still seeming to head somewhere.
As Mascha, Maria Fedorchenko is the focal point of the story, leading with her expressive, slightly forlorn eyes, though it’s very much an ensemble effort. Whether they’re indulging in the games of children (blind man’s bluff and spin the bottle) or taking a blood oath of friendship, the young performers have a chemistry that is lovely to behold. Interestingly, Ukrainian students also have the option of taking a military pre-conscription class, in which skittish teenagers laughingly assemble assault rifles.
The floating nature of the narrative might be a bit too delicate for some, but Stop-Zemlia is a tender reminder of the uncertainty of youth as it begins to give way to adulthood and independence.
Stop-Zemlia does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2021 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.
Watch the trailer for Stop-Zemlia here: