The pair of Ukrainian Sheriffs featured in this intriguing odd-ball documentary written/filmed/directed and edited by Roman Bondarchuk bear no resemblance at all to anyone bearing the same title in the Wild West. But then that is hardly surprising as Stara Zburjivka their remote dilapidated village in Southern Ukraine bordering on to Crimea looks like time has stood still for decades, or maybe even longer.
The village mayor who is the one person trying to keep the place falling totally apart, has appointed Victor a retired policeman and Volodya a former bouncer, to be the official peacekeepers of their hamlet. There is a police force, vaguely referred to as being in a town too far away, and anyway if you want them to come to investigate anything then they expect you to pay for their gas to get there.
The Sheriffs buzz around the empty village roads in their 1974 yellow Lada which has a habit of breaking down constantly. They have a small Ukrainian flag flying from its window to make it look more official. There is not a lot of crime for them to solve, but there is string of petty thefts that include a broken old bike, a pair of ducks, and ironically the TV from their own ‘office’. Their main cause for concern is the town hobo Kolya who seems perpetually drunk, beats his wife up, and has an unfortunate tendency to eat his neighbors dog’s. He protests that all he wants is to be normal and accepted by the community.
Bondarchuk lets the action aimlessly unfurl without any narration at all as it was hardly necessary. At the funeral of a woman whose decaying body the Sheriffs had discovered, one of the villagers commenting on the poor turnout casually mentions that if everybody who had slept with her had turned up, the Church would have been packed.
Halfway through the film, Crimea is swallowed up by Russia and then they start to wage war with Ukraine too making the men in the village worry about being drafted in the Army to fight. Even before this we are shown the lone lookout man perched high in a watchtower endlessly day after day and just radioing the same ‘nothing to report’ as he has done for years.
Some brave newcomer to the village who is a Russian separatist tried to rally support for change, but the old-timers turn on him very forcefully ….. no one wants anything to be different than how it has always been even though it is obvious that most of the community can barely keep the roofs over their ramshackle shed like homes. However, outside of this run-down village however, the surrounding countryside is quite beautiful.
There is something strangely compelling about Bondarchuk’s film which maybe to do with his respectful observation of this tough wee band of rather fascinating people who, despite their hardships, are for the most part very good humored and happy with their lot. There is a whole seam of gentle comedy in his enchanting portrait of this remote village that plays out not at any of the inhabitants expense, but because of them.
Having already won a Special Jury Award at Amsterdam International Documentary Film Festival. Ukrainian Sheriffs is the country’s official submission for a Best Foreign Picture Oscar Nomination