Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama), Feb. 10, 1995. Running time: 93 MIN.
Shabunicha … Raisa Nedaschkovskaya
Lalja … Olga Sumskaya
With: S. Tarasov, V. Minjajlo, N. Savitschenko, I. Sumskaya, I. Zaslavski.
This first film by Ukrainian femme legit director Natalia Motuzko is a disappointingly prosaic treatment of an interesting theme. It may get bookings at fests impressed by its exoticism, but this tale of a sorceress and her apprentice won’t make B.O. music.
Set in a remote and timeless past, in lush countryside, “The Voice of the Herbs” is apparently inspired by Ukrainian legends about witchcraft. A beautiful , middle-aged witch takes a lovely teenage girl as her disciple and painstakingly initiates her into the mysteries of her art, while a couple of winged men observe them from a distance.
Motuzko rigorously avoids sensational elements, though there’s some nudity; her aim is to capture an aspect of Ukrainian folklore in a leisurely, poetic style. But she never manages to weave the magic her compatriot, the late Sergei Paradzhanov, achieved in his vividly visual films about folklore; “Herbs” is static and visually uninteresting.
Production credits are modest, and little demand is placed on the actors, who just go through the motions.