Pamfir: Masculinity has seldom been more cartoonishly toxic

A feral presence and carnivalesque showdown bring colour and Sturm und Drang to the grimmest locales

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Director: Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk
Cert: None
Genre: Drama
Starring: Oleksandr Yatsentyuk, Stanislav Potyak, Solomiia Kyrylova
Running Time: 1 hr 40 mins

Masculinity has seldom been more cartoonishly toxic than in Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk’s compelling hair-trigger drama.

Leonid, aka Pamfir, the handlebar-moustached hulk of the title – his nickname means Stone – returns home to his wife, Olena (Solomiya Kyrylova), and son, Nazar, in the Bukovina region of western Ukraine, after a spell working illegally in Poland.

Pamfir is hoping to earn an honest living as a water diviner. That goal seems most unlikely in a lawless, superstitious backwater where the local politician and forestry commissioner, Oreste (Petro Chychuk), is also the neighbourhood mob boss.

When Nazar (Stanislav Potiak) burns the local church, his pathologically proud father insists on remuneration, a financial burden that requires a smuggling run to Romania. It’s a classically ruinous one last score, and a scheme that soon brings Oreste and his goons a-calling.


Pamfir is first introduced in a carved wooden mask, a devil costume associated with the Malanka new-year pageant. That festival takes on the same hide-and-seek quality that New Orleans’ Mardi Gras has served in multiple Hollywood thrillers, as a carnival of disguises, animal skins and murderous intentions.

Krasna Malanka, Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk’s 2013 documentary and graduate film, depicts the same occultist-looking celebration, and the writer-director is well placed to draw Wicker Man energies from the riotous spectacle.

It equally flags the protagonist’s strange, inhuman qualities. There is something almost mythical about Pamfir’s strength. Played with blood and heft by Oleksandr Yatsentyuk, Leonid is a beast who repeatedly grunts and growls whether he’s with his wife in the bedroom or talking to his estranged parents. (He previously blinded his father during an altercation.)

Every encounter feels as if it will explode into violence. That feral central presence and the final carnivalesque showdown bring colour and Sturm und Drang to the grimmest of locales.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic