A House Made of Splinters review — Ukrainian children’s last chance

Directed by Simon Lereng Wilmont | 87 min | ▲▲▲▲△ | CBC Gem 

We’re in Lysychansk, in Eastern Ukraine, in the days before the war with Russia. This is a way-station of sorts for kids whose parents are homeless or struggling with addictions. Children can spend nine months in this community home until their fostering is sorted out, or they get sent to a state facility which, from the sound of it, isn’t somewhere anyone wants to go.

We get to know a few of the kids who are dealing with being the collateral damage of fractured families. They’re eight or nine, maybe 10, with names Kolya, Sasha, Polina, and Eva. They’re shockingly aware of their circumstances. For one reason or another, their parents have abandoned them. They all have a kind of hope, that their parents will get their act together and come collect them, or perhaps another relative. There’s also the possibility of a kind stranger looking to foster.

What’s maybe most astonishing here is how deeply observational this film is — how much the kids seem to completely ignore the camera suggesting the filmmaker was able to earn their trust entirely. He’s right there with these kids, capturing them playing, fighting, crying, and sharing secrets. He sees their personalities, moments of joy with friends as if this is some kind of extended summer camp, and he sees them at some of the worst moments of their young  lives.

It makes you wonder how the women who work in this place survive what must be a regular heartbreak, and whether we’re seeing in real time children absorbing trauma that will be with them the rest of their days.

The film’s not an easy watch. While it could benefit from more focus, there’s no denying its power, especially when you consider what’s happened in the past year. It’s simply too terrible to think of what this place must be like now in the midst of an unthinkable war.

About the author


Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.