Ivan's Land


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Ivan's Land
"Lysetskyi’s approach is direct yet also artistic."

The film festival circuit has a steady stream of Ukrainian documentaries on it at the moment and, understandably, almost, if not all, are considering the ongoing Russian invasion from various angles. This 2021 observational documentary by Andrii Lysetskyi comes as a warm counterpoint, although watching it now is also a reminder of a cultural heritage that continues to be threatened by the war.

Folk artist Ivan Prykhodko is the sort of upbeat eccentric who is a documentarian’s dream, a kindred spirit of the likes of Juha Suonpää’s “Lynx Man” Hannu Rantala. Living on a small homestead with his two dogs, cat and assortment of chickens, Ivan spends his days tending to the various crops and chatting to his pets in between painting striking naif folk art, based on bright colours and symmetry and incorporating fantastical elements (see examples here).

Copy picture

Lysetskyi’s approach is direct yet also artistic. The light that streams into Ivan’s cottage coupled with its rustic contents gives the film’s interiors the feeling of a Dutch Master’s painting, while the artist’s grey hair and moustache - not to mention his wood whittling skills - lend him the air of a latter day Gepetto. Ivan is also a dab hand with a tambourine and is captured performing what look like seasonal rituals, involving mask wearing and fire-starting. The director, whose CV has been built on cinematography work, knows a good image when he sees one, bringing a striking elemental vibe to these scenes, whether it’s the sparkle of snow crystals or sparks of fire.

Ivan doesn’t directly address the camera, although given his regular conversations with his pets he scarcely needs to. Lysetskyi patiently captures him at work, as he talks to himself about colours and shapes. These interactions in general offer some of the most joyous scenes in the film, as he plays with his cat or chats with his dog about her puppies. Some of this may well be performance but there’s a sense that Ivan is always engaged in one of those to a degree, even as he lives his life on entirely his own terms.

Despite his eccentricities - fully on display as Lysetskyi observes him from a distance trying to sell his wares at a local market - Ivan is not living in splendid isolation.

We also see him being visited by those interested in his art, the interactions often displaying a gentle absurdity in the contrast between Ivan’s relaxed attitude and those who have come to see him. Elsewhere, there’s the unbridled delight of schoolchildren as he talks to them about his approach, encouraging them to use their own imaginations to create art of their own.

Ivan’s success is also evident in an exhibition of his work being assembled in a room so large people are using push scooters to get from one end to the other. Here editor Serhiy Lysenko finds a cross-cutting dialogue between the exhibition’s attendees and other elements from the film that are both humorous and thought-provoking. Lysetskyi’s film is, on the one hand, a celebration of national culture and art but beyond that it’s a heartwarming love letter to eccentrics everywhere, living life to the fullest in the way that they choose.

Ivan's Land screened recently at a charity fundraising event at Edinburgh College of Art - the first of several. Donations were taken for Voices of Children, which provides psychological, psychosocial, and targeted humanitarian support to Ukrainian families and children affected by the war - you can read more about their work and donate here

Reviewed on: 10 May 2024
Share this with others on...
Ivan's Land packshot
Documentary about folk artist Ivan Prykhodko.

Director: Andrii Lysetskyi

Year: 2021

Country: Ukraine


Search database: