A film called “In Our Synagogue” and shot in part in the synagogue in Khust, southwest Ukraine, has won the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) Best Short Film prize, in the National competition program, at the Odessa International Film Festival.
The 30-minute, black-and-white film, a co-production of Ukraine and France but principally financed by the Ukrainian government, is the debut film of the young Ukrainian filmmaker Ivan Orlenko and is based on an unfinished story by Franz Kafka by the same title, about a mysterious animal that lives in a synagogue. It was shot entirely in Yiddish.
In an email last year, Orlenko told JHE that he had started the film project in 2016. It was “dedicated to Jewish life in the Carpathian region and it turned out to be the first film in Yiddish, made in Ukraine….As you can see from the [trailer] footage my film is focused on the Jewish heritage both in visual and language sense.”
In an interview with the Kyiv-based journalist Olesya Anastasieva and published in the October/November 2017 issue of The Odessa Review, Olenko spoke about filming on location in the Khust synagogue and other locations in the Zakarpattia region (and elsewhere).
The synagogue itself and several streets are located in the city of Khust in the Zakarpattia region. Two interiors we found in Kyiv, another street is in Mukachevo (there on the horizon you can see the “Palanok” castle as an allusion to the “Castle” of Kafka). Part of the shooting took place in France, in Strasbourg, where we filmed footage in a school and the ritual mikvah.
There were several options for where to shoot the film, because in Ukraine, there are still several remaining authentic synagogues — Shargorod, Bershad, Berdichev. But when I arrived in Khust, I immediately realized that I would only shoot there. The architecture is just incredible, I’m very glad that we were allowed to shoot inside of it. By the way, this is the only pre-war synagogue that never closed down, neither during the war nor after the USSR. This synagogue itself has a very interesting story. I think that I will shoot some more movies there.
Khust is located in western Ukraine, south of Lviv and near the borders with Hungary and Romania.
The Synagogue was built in the mid-19th century with a simple, rural Baroque facade — it in fact, according to the synagogue architecture expert Rudolf Klein in his book Hungarian Synagogues 1782-1918, was built together with a twin synagogue next to it, that was demolished under Soviet rule.
Its interior is noted for impressive ceiling paintings and also Klein writes, because it is one of the most recent examples of a nine-bay synagogue built around a four-pillar central Bimah.