ArticlesMovies and series"Dovbush": a must-see Ukrainian historical action film

“Dovbush”: a must-see Ukrainian historical action film


On 24 August, the long-awaited premiere of Dovbush, a historical adventure film directed by Ukrainian filmmaker Oles Sanin, took place in Ukraine. I did not just say that the film was long-awaited. The shooting of the film began in 2018, that is, 5 years ago, but for technical reasons it was postponed several times. Then the pandemic happened, followed by a full-scale war, which simply could not but affect the ability to continue working on the film. But fortunately, the premiere did take place and, thanks to the all-Ukrainian tour organised by the film crew, including the director, producer and leading actors, it was held with a special atmosphere.


I was lucky enough to attend the special screening, to meet those without whom this film would not have been possible, to learn some details of the filming and, of course, to enjoy the bright and spectacular film. And I am ready to share my impressions.

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Impressions of Dovbush

ДовбушLet me start by saying that I am not a big fan of Ukrainian cinema. Still, in my opinion, it still has a long way to go to create its own authentic, recognisable style, as the British and French have done, for example (I won’t talk about Hollywood, because that’s a completely different story). So I went to the premiere with curiosity, but without any special expectations. And how nice it is to be wrong sometimes.

The film turned out to be spectacular, eventful and colourful. It combines magical landscapes of the Carpathian Mountains, incredible and highly detailed costumes of the characters that you wanted to look at all the time, the “signature” Hutsul dialect and purely Ukrainian humour, atmospheric scenery that conveys the spirit of the times, and, of course, a perfectly selected cast. The epic battles that dot almost the entire film are simply amazing. Particularly striking among them are the partisan “tricks” that were one of the main strategies of the opryshky, as they often outnumbered their enemies. By the way, all the stunts and battles were filmed without stuntmen, the actors did it themselves. According to Oleksii Hnatkovskyi (Ivan Dovbush), it took him about six months of training to master knife fighting, Mateusz Kostiukiewicz (Przeluski) spent the same amount of time learning to fence with a Polish sabre (and we can see this at the end of the film), and Serhii Strelnikov (Oleksa Dovbush) spent a year and a half training. During this time, he honed his skills in fighting with a bartka (a recognisable insurgents axe) and shooting with ancient weapons.


I also can’t help but highlight the exceptional work with light – you can almost see the “Hollywood” school here, which makes the film feel particularly stylish and modern. The icing on the cake is the sound, which plays a significant role in cinema, and especially in action films. It can be appreciated in particular during the fights that punctuate Dovbush.

In general, Oleksa Dovbush is an exceptional personality in our history. If you will, he is practically a Hutsul superhero with a bartka, one of the most famous leaders of the opryshky. Not much is known about his life, and even less has survived in terms of documentary evidence. However, there are many legends about him: fantastic, mystical, but some of them are quite plausible.

As Oles Sanin said, there is no one Dovbush. Each author saw the insurgents leader in his own way, from different angles. The director shared that while working on the film, he read an incredible number of sources (and not only Ukrainian ones) that describe Dovbush’s life or somehow supplement it. But, one way or another, the creation of the character was not without the director’s personal vision.


Sanin’s portrait of the protagonist is almost canonical. His Dovbush is principled, fair, determined and sometimes desperate. The director reveals the character’s personality in different circumstances, emphasising his outstanding features that made him a hero. And this, in my opinion, was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the plot refers to many facts and legends associated with Dovbush. For example, how he gave his pipe to the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism, as a sign of gratitude for his rescue (although Sanin’s story is based on different circumstances), and also to a quarrel between the Dovbush brothers, during which Ivan cut Oles on the leg with his own bartka, which left him limping. Yes, the film has all of this, but it is precisely because of the abundance of events that the plot seems a little “torn” and not entirely logical. It is impossible not to notice how many stories about Dovbush “shout” at each other, fighting for the viewer’s attention. Because of this, the logic of the narrative is somewhat erased (which is further facilitated by flashbacks), especially in the first half of the film.

But then the narrative gets on the rails of the main plot and everything gradually returns to its place. The story, full of spectacular and brutal fights, magically leads the viewer to a rather heartwarming ending. I won’t go into details to avoid spoilers, but the interesting plot twists at the end made me turn a blind eye to some problems with the script.


One way or another, everyone will see something different in Dovbush. For some people, the film is a historical action film, for others it is an adventure, for others it is a drama with action elements. But, in my opinion, the film is worthy and gives a clear understanding that Ukrainian cinema is gradually gaining momentum and what it is capable of right now. This means that it will only get better in the future.

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Why you should watch Dovbush

Was the new story about the Carpathian legend perfect? Of course not. But you should definitely watch it. Here are some arguments.


First of all, Dovbush is one of the most expensive Ukrainian films today, with a budget of $3 million. For world cinema, this is nothing at all, but Oles Sanin’s film turned out to be very spectacular. Watching the film, you realise how much work was done (costumes, sets and weapons were mostly made by hand) and how many people were involved in its creation. Perhaps this is a new chapter in Ukrainian cinema, and no self-respecting film buff can miss it.

Secondly, everything is real. The battles were performed by the actors themselves, without understudies, which took them many months of training. And Loser Tversky, the American actor who played Baal Shem Tov, learnt Ukrainian on his own. He speaks himself in the film, he is not dubbed.

Thirdly, the film tells a story that is always relevant to us. Times change, circumstances change, but values remain the same. The struggle for honour, dignity and freedom is what Ukrainians have fought for in the past, are fighting for now and will fight for in the future.


Personally, I recommend watching Dovbush at the cinema – it’s the easiest way to support Ukrainian cinema. And, in the case of this film, it also helps to destroy the occupiers as quickly as possible. After all, the film supports the 68th separate brigade named after (you’ll never guess) Oles Dovbush, and part of the profit from each ticket is transferred to their needs. I went to the cinema and did a good deed. It’s a beauty. So enjoy the film and let us know what you think in the comments.

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