A Ukrainian Film Star
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A still from Karmelyuk. 1986;
director Hryhory Kokhan.
Ivan Havrylyuk

It takes some actors years to gain popularity with the public and critics but Ivan Havrylyuk seems to have become popular with both right from his debut in cinema.

Ivan Havrylyuk was born and grew up in Western Ukraine, in an area which is known as Halychyna (now it is situated within the Lviv Oblast). Shortly after graduation from secondary school, he went to Kyiv to try his luck at the Institute of Performing Arts. The examination board established that he did have a talent of an actor and he was enrolled as a student of the Department of Cinema. In 1967, at the age of 19 he played his first role in a TV film and the director Boris Ivchenko decided that Havrylyuk was good enough for a supporting role in his film Annychka (“Little Ann”).

The end of the sixties was the time when the Ukrainian cinema flourished. New subjects were introduced, new approaches were tried, new ways of expressiveness were explored.

The Western Ukraine was a cinematographic discovery after the great success of Paradjanov’s The Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (known in the West as Fiery Horses) and many directors wanted to make films connected in one way or another with the life and traditions of Western Ukraine.

No wonder, Ivan Havrylyuk, a man from Halychyna was in great demand. He had a handsome face, considered typical of the Western Ukrainian male, the right kind of impetuousness, a good sense of rhythm and movement.

Even though Havrylyuk’s role in his first full-length film was a supporting one, his performance was noticed and praised and he was soon invited to play a leading role in the film Khlib i Sil (“Bread and Salt”, based on the novel of the same name by Mykhailo Stelmakh, a bestseller in those times).

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A still from Zakhar Berkut. 1971;
director Leonid Osyka.
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A still from Zakhar Berkut. Ivan Havrylyuk and
Antonina Leftiy.

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A still from Annychka. 1968. Ivan Havrylyuk
and Ivan Mykolaichuk (centre).

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Novosillya (“House-warming party”). 1973;
director Vasyl Illyashenko.

The man Havrylyuk played (Levko), is very deeply in love with a girl called Khrystyna but she loves another man. Levko’s love overwhelms him and he takes the girl by force. They get married and hatred on the part of the girl gradually transforms into love as Levko turns out to be, in spite of his impetuosity and mad passions, a person with a generous, rich soul. Havrylyuk managed to show both the wild and the tender side of his hero, revealing his complex, turbulent and magnanimous nature in full. It was no mean achievement, especially if one remembers that at the time of the filming Havrylyuk was a young student. His experience of a film actor was gained not in class though but right at the set.

“As a matter of fact I did not attend too many classes in college,” reminisces the actor. “The only course I took in all seriousness was the one given by Artur Voitetsky, an excellent film director who really taught me a lot. I tried hard to pick whatever actor’s skills I could from other actors I played together with in films. One of them was Ivan Mykolaichuk who was at the zenith of his fame then. I did listen to the advice given by the film directors Yuri Illienko, Leonid Osyka, Leonid Bykov, and remembered it well. There were also two poets, Dmytro Pavlychko and Ivan Dratch who contributed a lot to my spiritual growth and helped shape me as an actor.

But now, when I come to think of it, even back in Lviv when I was a senior high school student I began to absorb culture. My teacher of literature Leonid Chernobay did a great job. He not only got his class very much interested in his subject, he invited writers, actors and other interesting people to come to school and talk about various things. It was really great as it not only developed our artistic tastes but cultivated in us love for Ukraine and things Ukrainian. Once I even took part in a sort of a demonstration in support of two human-rights champions who were arrested by the Soviet authorities... When the actor Fedir Stryhun whom I had met while still in Lviv learnt of my desire to go to Kyiv and study to be an actor, he gave me a sort of a letter of reference to be handed to Ivan Mykolaichuk, one of the stars of Ukrainian cinema then. I arrived in Kyiv with a friend of mine and we went to Mykolaichuk’s place straight from the railroad terminal. When we rang the door bell the door was answered by the host himself. We were not only invited to come in and tell our story but were offered a meal in company with another actor (Brondukov by name who later became a film star) who had come to pay a visit. We said we had to get back to the terminal to get our luggage and we returned with a bottle of cognac. It was really an impromptu banquet that we had then. That was the way I began my acquaintance with the world of cinema.”

Since then Ivan Havrylyuk has played in about seventy films, not all of them even worth remembering. But some have firmly established themselves in the memories of the film audiences and the actors who played in them.

One of such films was Zakhar Berkut, based on a novel by Ivan Franko, a prominent Ukrainian writer and poet of the late 19th century. Havrylyuk played a man whose spirit overcomes his instinct of self preservation. The action of the film takes place in the Carpathian mountains in the 13th century when Ukraine was invaded and overrun by the Mongols. A Ukrainian community headed by Zakhar Berkut makes an attempt to stop the advance of the Mongol hordes on their way to conquer Europe. His son Maxim (played by Havrylyuk) finds himself a prisoner through a treachery. The Mongols demand that he take them across the mountains and Maxim agrees but only to try to lead them to perdition in a narrow defile. He lets his compatriots know of his plan to destroy the enemy. The waters of a river are released by the Berkut’s people into the defile through which the Mongol troops are passing and everybody, including Maxim dies.

Havrylyuk played a staunch warrior who at the same time is capable of tender feelings of love (in addition to war there is of course a love story in the film, developing as it were on the parallel lines).

He is strong as a fighter must be and yet he is sensitive and sensual into the bargain. Few actors in the then Ukrainian cinema could play such a role so convincingly.

Among Havrylyuk’s strengths is his ability to play people who find themselves handicapped in this or that way. The actor has always tried to capture the psychological state of the people he played. Once he was cast in the role of a blind man and to get things going right he spent two weeks among the blind (the film Those Who Go Beyond the Horizon, directed by Mykola Kalinin, received a prize at a festival of TV films in Paris in 1973).

In the mid-seventies Havrylyuk introduces new aspects into his playing. He wants to reveal the comical side of the heroes he plays and does it quite successfully.

A landmark role for Havrylyuk was the one he played in the film Babylon 20, directed by Ivan Mykolaichuk (actor turned director).

The action takes place in a Ukrainian village called Babylon in the early twenties, at the time when the new Bolshevik regime was getting itself established in the countryside. Havrylyuk plays Klym Synytsya, a former sailor (from the Aurora cruiser, the very same one that shot a couple of rounds at the Winter Palace in Petrograd /now St. Petersburg/ who comes to the village of Babylon to “revolutionize” it, to “bring new life” to it. His methods at first are primitive and brutal: when he sees sculptural representations of the last Czar and his family made by a villager he destroys the sculptures by tossing a hand grenade into them. But as the time passes on the sailor realizes that not everything in life is so simple and cannot be dealt with by throwing grenades at things he does not like. There is a growing opposition to his methods of imposing new “collective farming” ways upon the old village and though the sailor turned revolutionary gets the upper hand he becomes more tolerant and understanding.

In this role Havrylyuk again managed to show the complex nature of the man he played and reveal all the conflicting aspects of his personality. The director Kokhan, after seeing Havrylyuk in the role of Synytsya, decided he was the actor perfectly fitting for the role of Karmelyuk, a legendary Ukrainian hero of the past. Karmelyuk was a TV serial and though some critics found many faults with it, Havrylyuk’s Karmelyuk stood out as another successful role for the actor. He got himself firmly established as an actor who could perform heroic roles imbuing them with a sense of truly humane attitudes.

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    A still (death dance on top of a hill)     
      from Annychka.     

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A still from Khlib i Sil (“Bread and Salt”). 1970; director Hryhory Kokhan.

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A still from Lehenda pro Knyahynyu Olgu     
(“A Legend of Princess Olga”). 1983;     
director Yuri Illienko.    

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A still from Povernennya Butterfly
(“Return of
Butterfly”). 1982;
director Oleh Fialko.
Ivan Havrylyuk and Olena Safonova.
When the winds of change began to blow away the obsolete Soviet ideological dogmas, bans and prohibitions, Havrylyuk decided it was the right time to start his business, thus revealing still another, business side of his nature. He had plans to have a new film studio built in the town of Kolomyia, close to the Carpathian Mountains, and to make his own films, without the state telling him how to do it and what kinds of movies to make. The film company he headed (originally called Ukrayina and later renamed Volya-20) released several films but then came a slump in the Ukrainian economy and many things ground to a halt, Ukrainian film making among them. At present Havrylyuk is in fact jobless. But he does not give up. Together with Yuri Illenko he wrote a screen play for a big film about the 18th-century Ukrainian Hetman (ruler) Mazepa. Now he has to find money to make this film and he feels he has to hurry — he is going on fifty and he is eager to play many more roles. No, Havrylyuk will never give up, he’ll always be ready to be a heroic figure in films and in life. In the meanwhile Ivan Havrylyuk remains a star of the Ukrainian national cinema.


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