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‘Tribute to ordinary people’: Ukraine drama In Her Car to air across Europe | Ukraine

‘Tribute to ordinary people’: Ukraine drama In Her Car to air across Europe | Ukraine
‘Tribute to ordinary people’: Ukraine drama In Her Car to air across Europe | Ukraine

It was while driving his family and others to the relative safety of Kyiv at the start of the full-blown Russian invasion of Ukraine that Eugen Tunik came up with the idea for a wartime on-the-road TV drama.

“Train and bus stations became overcrowded and people couldn’t easily move around, so a lot of people, including myself, suddenly became so-called ‘transporters’, helping to carry people abroad or to wherever they needed to get to,” the writer said.

“It’s a good opportunity to get to know your fellow human beings and to understand them better. And while on one of these journeys, I thought, why not develop this idea further?”

The result of that spring 2022 epiphany is the 10-part television series, In Her Car, filmed in Ukraine, in which a forthright, stoical psychologist ferries people to safety in her slate-blue Škoda. It may be set in wartime, but a military drama this is not: Tunik calls it “a tribute to ordinary people and how they cope with the reality of war”.

Watch the trailer for In Her Car – video

In something of a first, In Her Car will this week be broadcast simultaneously across seven European countries, including Germany, France and Sweden, to mark the invasion’s second anniversary. Ukrainian television is to show all 10 episodes back-to-back on 24 February. Three other European countries bought the rights this week, as did Japan’s public broadcaster NHK which will broadcast it next week.

Tunik describes his creation as “a mix of drama and road movie, with flicks of comedy, all very much part of real life.

“I hope it has a universality about it that makes it appealing to audiences all over the world, at the same time as reminding people about Ukraine and the war that Russia is raging against us,” he said, at the first international presentation of the series at Café Kyiv, an annual gathering of Ukrainian artists and activists in Berlin prompted by the Russian invasion.

Filmed between March and October 2023, In Her Car is a rarity: a fictional series created almost completely in Ukraine during wartime, with all the restrictions that that entails.

In Her Car will be broadcast simultaneously across seven European countries. Photograph: [email protected]+380503551282/Roman Lisovsky

Producer Asia Bataieva of Starlight Media said: “We had to ask ourselves: is this feasible; is it morally OK to shoot under the conditions of war? We couldn’t secure insurance for the production, so we just had to take a huge risk. In addition the entertainment market dropped massively at the start of the war, as all the channels were just transmitting news. But we were convinced this is something that has to happen.”

Tunik recalled the challenges of filming, from observing the midnight to 6am curfew, “which meant shooting could only occur between 7am and 10pm”, to ensuring that there was a bomb shelter and medical care available at every film location.

“In peacetime you take an artistic approach to where you’re going to film. In wartime, the main location question is: ‘Is there a bomb shelter?’” he said.

Everyone approached to participate, from camera operators to actors, embraced the opportunity, said co-producer Andreas Bareiss from Gaumont.

“After all, the industry had ground to a halt, and suddenly there was this great chance to work again. And not just with something ordinary but with a big international show, about ordinary Ukrainians, that was going to be seen by millions of people.”

While the makers of the show, which cost just a little over €1m (£860,000), did not seek political approval, In Her Car has reportedly received the support of first lady Olena Zelenska, an advocate for mental health care for Ukrainians, who watched it with her team ahead of its Ukrainian premiere in Kyiv earlier this week.

In Her Car has reportedly received the support of Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska. Photograph: Adam Berry/AFP/Getty Images

Tunik, both the writer and director of the series, said he hoped the show could help people to “start talking”. The war, he said, had prompted “some people to talk with a certain urgency, in a way they maybe haven’t before. This terrible event forced a lot of psychological traumas that were already in people, out into the open. And I hope by watching this series, it will actually help Ukrainians who couldn’t until now, to start talking. And not just Ukrainians.”

The series follows its main character, Lydia, the psychologist, as she “transports” various passengers while religiously keeping up her social media advisory posts. Played by leading Ukrainian actor Anastasia Karpenko, Lydia listens to the concerns of her passengers’ lives, from grandmother Tanya, whose grandson has been called up, to would-be nail designer Olga, who cheated with her sister’s new husband on their wedding day.

Her own dramatic story, meanwhile, unfolds over the course of the series. We first meet her driving with Olga – whom she has picked up at a crowded bus station – to Kharkiv, to divorce her husband. War breaks out just as they are taking a break at a service station attempting to buy petrol. “The war caught up with me when I was on the road,” Lydia nonchalantly remarks.

“There’s a lot of me in the character of Lydia, and the other people are fictional but based on real stories,” Tunik said.

Bataieva called it a “powerful signal of our unity and the power of the story” that In Her Car is to broadcast in several countries at once, a status reserved so far only for the Eurovision Song Contest, never for a drama.

Manuel Alduy of France Télévisions, said the series was “more easily absorbed and intimate” than news bulletins or a documentary.

“We thought it was very brave to tell this story at all, focused on civilian life, and to do it right in the middle of the war,” he said.

Tunik, already a name in Ukraine as the maker of the ground-breaking hit teenage series Early Swallows, said he welcomed the fact his show would get such a wide audience, “even if, of course, the ironic truth is it’s because of the war”.

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