Review: Rhino (2021)

Blue Finch Film Releasing presents Rhino on Digital Download 16 May

Rhino’s (2021) opening shot is that of its protagonist, Vova, as a child, wandering alone through a field of sunflowers, hacking at their stems with an axe. Despite the aggression evident in Vova, it is one of the few images that hint at natural beauty in Oleh Sentsov’s second feature film. Immediately following this, Vova returns to his urban home, is set upon by a group of boys, and reacts viciously with a knife. The next hour and a half plunge us into the bleak world of 90s post-Soviet Ukraine, as Vova grows into an angry, violent young man. Framed around a conversation Vova has with “the man in the car”, the film recounts his youth and how he became entangled in gang violence.  

The highlight of the film comes very near the beginning, in a sweeping take that pans around Vova’s family home, introducing his mother, brother, and sister, and cycles through his childhood, teenage years, and into his adulthood. It’s an entrancing bit of filmmaking, after which the film becomes increasingly thematically dark (literally so, making some shots difficult to decipher). Throughout the runtime, Vova remains the anchor of the film, played by newcomer Serhii Filimonov who delivers a stoic and intimidating performance as the misguided delinquent. Vova, like his nickname Rhino suggests, is an almost impenetrable character. There are flashing moments of poignant reflection which suggest he mourns the humanity he has lost in his violent pursuits, though unfortunately these are rare, often drowned out by the relentless bleakness and brutality of the piece.

Ultimately, Rhino is a hard-hitting drama that demands attention. Sentsov—who was imprisoned in Russia in 2014 for opposing the annexation of Crimea and only released in 2019 after his sentence was criticised by numerous governments and the UN—has imbued the film with a palpable anger. He does not compromise in his vision of depicting the harshest realities of lives governed by inescapable cycles of violence, intensified by poverty and a lack of opportunities. Rhino has evidently struck a chord with audiences and critics alike, having won best film at the Stockholm film festival, and will likely be remembered as a heavy hitter in contemporary Ukrainian film.

[Eve Connor – She/Her – @eve.connor]

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: