Ukrainian Actor Sasha Ivanov Joins the 'Shrimps' for French Film Sequel, But Longs for Homeland

Thursday May 5, 2022

Ukrainian actor Sasha Ivanov
Ukrainian actor Sasha Ivanov  (Source:Facebook)

On his Facebook page, Ukranian actor Sasha Ivanov cites Kyiv as his hometown, but recently he emigrated to Paris after Russia invaded Ukraine. Amid his personal upheaval, Ivanov is featured in the queer film "The Revenge of the Glitter Shrimp" ("La Revanche des Crevettes Pailletées" in French) that opened in France last month. The film is a sequel to the 2019 hit "The Shiny Shrimp," ("Les Crevettes Pailletées"), that follows what happens when a homophobic coach is forced to coach a gay water polo team who compete in the Gay Games. In the sequel, Ivanov plays a young French-speaking Russian experiencing conversion therapy and who serves as a translator for the French team. 

If the first film featured a homophobe amongst a group of gay men, the sequel concerns a group of gay men amongst homophobes, says the comedy's co-director Maxime Govare in an interview with the French website Tê In the sequel, the team must travel to Tokyo for the competition but somehow get stuck in Russia enroute, which allows the filmmakers to comment on that country's notorious anti-gay policies.

"It allowed us to develop more committed, more political themes, to denounce state homophobia," explains Cédric Le Gallo, the other director of the film. 

This gave the opportunity for the filmmakers to address topics such as "conversion therapy" or even homophobic ambushes on gay dating apps, Tê writes. But not the opportunity to shoot in Russia, where they would have been jailed. Instead they chose Ukraine. "The actors felt very free in Ukraine. And even if everything is not perfect for LGBTQI + people there, Ukraine has nothing to do with Russia," underlines Cédric Le Gallo. "That's also why it's very important that Ukraine remains Ukraine."

The co-directors' goal is to use comedy to address serious issues, but make an important distinction. "Humor comes from Shrimps, we laugh with Shrimps, we don't laugh at Shrimps. We don't make fun of homosexuals, we make fun of homophobes ... especially since self-mockery is an integral part of the LGBTQI + culture" says Govare.

The film came to Ivanov, who moved from studying architecture in Kyiv to involvement in film projects after he took an acting role in "Stop-Zemlia," by Kataryna Gomostai, which won the Crystal Bear, the highest award in the "Generation 14 plus" section, at the Berlin festival in 2021. The young Ukranian was also taking on translation jobs on the side when the Ukrainian co-producer of "Revenge of the Glitter Shrimp" said that, in addition the translation work, there might be an acting role for him. He was cast by co-directors Govare and Le Gallo, despite never having seen the first film. "When I discovered it, it helped me to understand this somewhat sarcastic and surprising humor that plays with genres," he told Tê

Sasha Ivanov
Sasha Ivanov  (Source: Facebook)

Having lived most of his life in the Russian occupied part of the country, where both Ukrainian nationalism and homosexuality were repressed, he said that things felt different when he relocated to the capital city.

"Ukraine has been a country in its own right for 31 years and the will of the people has always been to join the European Union. As a result, the country is very free on LGBT issues, especially in recent years, with many institutions opening up and the organization of a gay pride protected by the police. It is increasingly accepted that people can live as they want and love whoever they want. There are many places like the one we see in the film, even if the clubs are less clandestine and are open to everyone, especially in the center of Kyiv which is divided into many districts, each with its own identity and very books dedicated to young people. Of course, we must be careful because there are always opponents of freedom, as everywhere. especially in the center of Kyiv which is divided into many districts, each with its own identity and very free places dedicated to young people," he said.

He landed in Paris just as the war started, admitting that he would prefer to be in his homeland. "I really liked my life in Kyiv, I lived with a roommate from Berlin in a fairly international environment. I was working on translations, film projects and composing some music. I developed almost in spite of myself a form of patriotic feeling because many elements took me towards that. Kyiv is one of the most beautiful cities I know, with lots of parks, a big river, it's magnificent. The threat had existed for a few years and my father, who was very worried before the war, insisted that I leave and go to Paris. A large part of my family has been able to leave but some have decided to stay to fight and some are trapped in small towns from which they cannot safely escape. Our aggressor has no empathy for the population, they feel very superior to people who have nevertheless progressed much more than them in terms of mentality. We all hope that this escalation of conflict will finally lead to people around the world understanding what is going on because the narrative has been manipulated on these issues for years. It's not just a Ukrainian fight but a much more global fight."

A still from "The Revenge of the Shiny Shrimp"
A still from "The Revenge of the Shiny Shrimp"  (Source: IMDb)

Ivanov admits to feeling a sense of shame for being safe.

"Anyone who has ever fled knows that feeling. I try to do as many things as possible during the day, even if it's a bit difficult to find work. I have the advantage of speaking French but it is still difficult. I try to work on a form of cultural opposition here in Paris. There is a lack of a strong discourse from Russian artists in the world, few condemn the crimes of their country. They should refuse to remain Russian citizens in view of what is happening. I read somewhere "Burn your passport or your art" and it seems interesting to me. I boycott everything that comes from Russia, it has been a form of opposition for several years. Watching a Russian film when you're Ukrainian is like valuing your attacker."

And his biggest wish? "Return to Kyiv as soon as possible! I love my country and I dream of showing it to everyone. It is a dynamic, independent, democratic country full of opportunities. The release of the film allowed me to convey this message and to explain in particular that the war in Ukraine has existed for eight years. It's a form of personal commitment that drives me in the conversations that the film allows. I am very happy to be part of this film which sheds light on many values and which builds an intelligent dramaturgy. It is of course a fiction but which concentrates many major themes. I have known many young Russians who had to flee their country to be able to be who they are and love those they love."

"The Revenge of the Shiny Shrimp" was released in France in April. The film's US release has yet to be announced.