True/False Film Fest 2023 Review: A Village Thought to Be on Death’s Door Comes Alive in Maksym Melnyk’s “Three Women”

“Someone should make a film about a dying village,” Maria tells “Three Women” director Maksym Melnyk as he follows her, knowing better than most the financial situation in Stryzhavka as she delivers a dwindling amount of pension money to the elderly as part of her duties running the local post office on the edge of Ukraine. Her job is one of the few remaining in the town, which Melnyk explains he was drawn to Stryzhavka in part because of its name that translates to “something cold,” yet even when it seems hers could be in jeopardy after the next village over closed their post office, there is a healthy sense of humor as Maria knows what she’s participating in, not having to fear the mortal threat of being wiped off the map by Russian aggression, thanks to its border along Poland and Slovakia where the potential retaliation from the EU is a deterrent, but at risk of disappearing due to a lack of opportunity that has prompted most born there to pursue a future elsewhere.

Maria’s own kids are in the Czech Republic where work is more available and far better paid, and anyone under 40 in the village appear to be few and far between, but if Melnyk was looking for a certain vitality, he certainly finds it with a gregarious trio of subjects, trailing not only Maria, but Nelya, a 56-year old biologist who remains excited as ever to study excrement in her ongoing work for the national park to research arthropods, and Hanna, a couple decades her senior who also spends much of her time shoveling manure as well, running a small farm so she has the animals to keep her company. It’s not glamorous work for any of them, but it’s a living that keeps them engaged and occupied, somewhat effectively putting at bay the feeling of isolation of being in such a small rural town.

A former journalist who tired of covering politicians, Melnyk couldn’t have located any more salt of the earth subjects, all incredibly endearing in their own ways. Over time, the taciturn Hanna gradually warms to the camera after initially insisting the director should follow her neighbors, ultimately deciding that Melnyk and his German cameraman Florian are better company than her pigs, while Nelya pursues her dreams of being a scientist in spite of few appreciating what she does or the more pressing concern of her beat-up car in constant need of repairs she can’t afford, and Maria dutifully carries the responsibility of upholding a lifeline to the rest of the world at the post office, though she is often left at a loss for stamps. While it certainly seems like this way of life can’t continue to go on the way it does, Melnyk sees the beauty where routine has hardened his subjects’ view, warming the heart even when all they see is the ice. “Three Women” is as generous in spirit as the people it follows, assuring a place in the heart when the community’s place in the modern world may be less clear.

“Three Women” will screen at True/False at the Picturehouse on March 4th at 5:15 pm and March 5th at 9 pm. It will next screen at First Look Fest at 3:15 pm at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York on March 19th.

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