Venice 2023 Review: FOREVER-FOREVER, Post-Soviet Young and Restless
Anna Buryachkova's feature debut offers a female-centric lens on post-communist adolescence in Eastern Europe.
Ukrainian director Anna Buryachkova delves into adolescent rebellion and confusion in her feature debut, Forever-Forever. Set in Kyiv during the tumultuous 90s following the Soviet regime's collapse, the film navigates the group dynamics of young adults in this era as they seek love, validation, and a sense of belonging.
The narrative centers on Tonia, newly enrolled in a school, as she strives to assimilate with a diverse group of spirited teenagers in the post-socialist suburbs of Kyiv. As she becomes enmeshed in this new world, her past begins to surface.
Tonia grows close to the charismatic Zhurik, forms a strong bond with the vivacious Lera, and captures the attention of Lera's brooding brother, Sania. The group gradually discovers that Tonia's history includes a menacing stalker from a past relationship, prompting her frequent school changes.
Forever-Forever distinguishes itself from the mold of The Breakfast Club-style coming-of-age dramas, veering more toward the unvarnished portrayals of youthful mischief in British housing estates. Though Tonia is at the forefront, both Buryachkova and scriptwriter Marina Stepanska craft a collective narrative that delves into adolescent group dynamics, encompassing love, sexuality, tangled relationships, bullying, and the challenges faced on the brink of adulthood.
Though the group is entangled in emotional and physical altercations, substance use, and street brawls, Buryachkova addresses adolescence with stark honesty. She avoids romantic idealization, instead presenting it as a nuanced and intricate stage of personal development, especially in the post-Soviet landscape following communism's fall.
Friendships and alliances ebb and flow, yet adults are scarcely present in the world of Forever-Forever. Buryachkova zeroes in on the teenagers' lives, with occasional glimpses of teachers, as portions of the film unfold within the school setting. As for parents, they remain largely absent, save for a brief appearance by Tonia's parents, depicted in a quintessentially troubled marital scene.
The film's production faced challenges. Buryachkova and Marina Stepanska conceived and penned the story during the pandemic quarantine. Filming took place in Kyiv just two months prior to the Russian incursion into Ukraine. As tensions intensified, the captured footage was quickly transferred from Kyiv to Amsterdam to safeguard the project's progression.
Forever-Forever is a homage to the 90s in Eastern Europe, resonating with those who experienced and persevered through that era. Buryachkova and Stepanska highlight the fundamental desires of young adults for acceptance and validation in a less-than-perfect world with an uncertain future. Cinematographer Lena Chekhovska emphasizes the stark color palette, capturing the decay of schools and the wear of brutalist apartment blocks, characteristic of Eastern European social dramas.
Tonia and her friends embody the first generation post-communism, potentially availed of greater opportunities than their parents enjoyed. However, they must maneuver through this new world, often without recognizing the profound shift.
Significantly, Forever-Forever provides a female lens on maturing in the tumultuous 90s, eschewing some coming-of-age clichés while embracing universal archetypes of adolescence as a collective societal journey.
The film recently screened at the Venice International Film Festival.