12-year-old Nikita and his family have been staying in an underground station in Kharkiv for weeks. The place promises protection from Russian attacks, but there is not much distraction down here. The glaring lights and provisionally furnished carriages create a surreal to dreary atmosphere, pets roam the aisles, an aging musician plays songs on his guitar.
Ivan Ostrochovský and Pavol Pekarčík condense the first months of the war in Ukraine into an oppressive but not hopeless narrative, because the station is also a place of encounters. Niki soon meets Vika, who is his age and who coaxes the lethargic boy out of his shell. Together they roam the underworld, but while Vika is permitted to go to the surface at least once in a while, Niki’s radius of movement ends at the stairs on which sunlight falls occasionally. And yet an outside exists which the two directors make visible by Super 8 shots scattered in between. They show a damaged Kharkiv: destroyed vehicles, a charred bed, provisionally protected monuments. “Photophobia” is a hybrid, introspective film that manages to find something like tender romance in an unreal situation.