Pamfir’s Music: Symbolism and Documentary

In one of his interviews, director Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk said, “In an art-house’s movie, as in a literary work, everyone can read something different.” The film Pamfir was his first work in big cinema. Earlier the director worked in the documentary genre. However, this did not prevent Dmytro Sukholytko-Sobchuk from making Pamfir a multidimensional product with many hidden meanings and symbols, particularly in the musical score.

Documentary in auteur cinema

Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk used his experience as a documentary filmmaker in Pamfir in at least two ways. He repeatedly mentioned in The Village interview that it was important to show ordinary people whom he documented in the movie rather than actors. In addition, the documentary style of storytelling influenced his use of music in the film.

The music of Pamfir exists only in the environment of the movie, i.e. it is the kind of music that the characters hear. This type of sound is called diegetic and has at least three main functions[1]:

It helps to identify the area in which the events of the film take place, emphasizing the local flavor.

It indicates the time when the events take place.

It characterizes a particular character or group of people.

The second function of diegetic music, indicating the time when events take place in Pamfir is minimized since the approximate years of the events that unfold in the film are conveyed directly from the characters and “Easter Eggs” in the form of props (e.g., a shield on the wall in Pamfir’s house from the Maidan, as well as mentions that the twins’ father died in the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO)).

However, the first and third functions play important roles in the film.

The music of Pamfir   

There are three types of sound (not counting natural sounds) and ten scenes where music is played in Pamfir.

The first type is Ukrainian music from the 2000s, heard often on local radio in the Carpathian region. Examples include “Stozhary” by Pavlo Dvorsky, “Krai” by Mykola Mozgovyy (performed by Oleksandr Yarema), “Faino” by Oleksiy Kukharsky (performed by Stelsi), and “Birthday” songs by Theodore Kukuruza and Volodymyr Domshynskyy (performed by Budmo). All are played exclusively when characters from the criminal world appear on the screen, the third function of diegetic music in cinema.

Examples include the scene with drug dealers who pass dope to Pamfir (the movie’s main character) and later, scenes with Morda (one of the movie’s characters, Orest Mordasov) and his men, and the scene in the forestry building, where the recorded birdsong is combined with the melodies of a music box.

Against the backdrop of authentic Carpathian songs and the general musical “purity” of most of the film, these sounds are unnatural and artificial, like the smuggling, illegal trade, and protection rackets themselves.

Aside from the above-mentioned songs, there are no other modern Ukrainian pop-music hits used in the movie. This was a conscious choice of Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk to fulfill the first function of diegetic music, to identify the area. It was based on the director’s own attitude towards a system of “local princes” (people with illegally obtained power and wealth and misuse of their power and wealth specific to each area). Hence, we can assume that his choice of music hints at the obsolescence of such a non-democratic and likely corrupt system.

The second type of sound in Pamfir is related to church music. It appears only in two scenes and is mostly associated with Nazar, Pamfir, and Olena. The first time we encounter this type of music is in the House of Prayer, during a choir concert. “Sing Hallelujah” is played, Olena sings, Pamfir sings a little, and Nazar doesn’t sing at all, despite being in the choir.

This scene is important because:

It is the only static scene in the entire movie. It seems to stop the viewer, and the song acts as a prayer.

It demonstrates Nazar’s intelligence by showing that, unlike his father, he can achieve his goals (in this episode, his unwillingness to sing) without breaking agreements (going to choir rehearsals and taking part in a concert) or, indeed, the law.

It is the only scene in the entire movie that does not have animals on the screen, whether real, stuffed, masked, or even animal behavior in a human.

When the same motif is sung by Nazar the second time, he praises God that his family will be staying in the village on Malanka, just as he wished. This can be interpreted as a child’s joy, or it could be adding another virtue to Nazar’s personality, his ability to be grateful.

Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk
Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk



The third type of sound in Pamfir is Ukrainian traditional folk music, particularly, music of the Malanka ritual. It was composed by the director himself based on a folk motif and embodied by the French composer Laetitia Pansanel-Garric. She shared her interview posted on the movie’s’s official Instagram page, that to maximize the approximation and adhere to the principle of a documentary, Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk directed the use of authentic Ukrainian instruments in the recording. The doira, trembita, sopilka, and snare drum were used to create the main soundtrack.

In the same interview, Laetitia Pansanel-Garrick stated that Malanka’s melody “with the snare drum and powerful orchestral material with French horns” was supposed to sound non-diegetic at the beginning of the film and at the end of the film, as if to close the cycle. However, there was no theme at the beginning of the movie’s Netflix version. In this version, Malanka’s theme is heard in full only during the celebration itself, though rhythms from this motif are heard during the police officer’s visit to Pamfir’s brother Viktor where a man dancing in a bear costume and a mask step into a trap. In short, each time Malanka’s melody appears, it serves more functions than just a diegetic one.

The Malanka celebration in Pamfir is a climax episode, and the moment of the greatest tension. The festive motifs play the role of dissonance to the tragedy that is happening in the protagonist’s family.

The movie Pamfir and the documentary Krasna Malanka are inextricably linked, both at the level of music used and at the level of symbolism and history.

When creating Malanka’s music, Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk used recordings made during the preparation for the filming of Pamfir and from his documentary Krasna (Beautiful) Malanka. The main music theme of Pamfir echoes rhythmically with the songs sung by the inhabitants of the village of Prutni. The composer Laetitia Pansanel-Garric confirmed that to recreate authentic rhythmic sequences, she and the director watched videos of Malanka dancing.

Looking through Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk’s documentary Krasna Malanka and feature film, Pamfir, it becomes obvious that the director took a lot of notes during his 2013 expedition (to Krasnoilsk in Chernivtsi oblast’ to learn about Malanka celebration) and used them 5 years later in the Malanka performance in Pamfir. This applies not only to the musical parts of the film, but also to the general symbolism and historical background of this holiday.

Laetitia Pansanel-Garric
Laetitia Pansanel-Garric (LPG-Copyrigth JP Pargas)

Although Malanka’s music is played only twice during the movie, the traditions of the holiday are a common thread throughout the film. Among them is the tradition of boranka, (also mentioned in Krasna Malanka). For example, one of Morda’s men, the criminal mastermind, advises Pamfir “Don’t fight,” urging him not to go against Morda. However, Pamfir still asks the commandant to let him challenge Morda at Malanka, wanting to fight the criminal elite at least physically at the celebration.

In addition, the job of making masks was “entrusted” to Nazar by Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk because, as the director demonstrated in Krasna Malanka, the profession of a mask maker was prestigious in the village. Nazar was repeatedly shown in Pamfir as a symbol of the family’s hope, demonstrating his intelligence and ingenuity. It is therefore not surprising that Nazar played the role of the mask master.


Like numerous high-quality ideological films, new details are noticed every time one watches Pamfir.  For example, the religious inscriptions change throughout the plot, from “God is Love”, to “Go and Sin no More” (when Pamfir receives a message about the smuggling deal), to the inscription on the wall “God Will Forgive” when Morda’s men beat Pamfir. The overlap of all the mythological stories that Pamfir tells his son and Morda’s deputy throughout the film and how these stories get reflected in Pamfir’s life, serves the same purpose.

We hope that everyone will be able to look through or even acquire the art book created by the director for this film when it gets transferred to the archives. This book will surely bring to light many more meanings that Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk hid in Pamfir.

In the comments, we invite everyone to join the discussion, share your observations, and tell us what Pamfir was about for you and the meanings that it revealed to you.

[1] By the Robbert van der Lek ‘s Diegetic Music in Opera and Film: Similarity Between Two Genres of Drama Analysed in Works by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897 – 1957) (Amsterdam, Rodopi, 1991), 35.

About the Author

The Claquers is a Ukrainian online magazine devoted to classical music that unites a group of music critics with the mission to foster a critical conversation about art music in Ukraine and beyond. The Claquers organization was founded in June 2020 by musicologist Stas Nevmerzhytskyi and three colleagues: musicologist Dzvenyslava Safian, music theorist Liza Sirenko, and cultural critic Oleksandr Ostrovskyi.

The publication’s provocative name suggests the context in which The Claquers was conceived. After two previous generations of proactive critics who had careers in education and cultural promotion, classical music criticism was limited to either positive reviews or no reviews at all. A fresh and uncensored eye on events in classical music life in Ukraine was needed to shake up the musical community and complete the country’s classical music ecosystem.

Unlike in western Europe and North America, art music audiences in Ukraine are much younger. The collective of writers with The Claquers is also young, and has taken on the task of explaining to these new listeners why a long tradition of classical music in Ukraine exists, and how it became a part of today’s cultural life. As a group The Claquers considers its main goals: to educate about contemporary classical Ukrainian music, to build bridges with popular culture by publishing about diverse musical genres and other arts (such as music in literature or in film), to expand the critical tools of music criticism with audio podcasts, and to cultivate audiences abroad via an English version of the website.

The Claquers was made possible by generous funding that enabled its establishment and is sustained by the generosity of donors on Patreon. This singular and engaged Ukrainian online hub devoted to classical music continues to engage people in this music and invite new authors.

Stas Nevmerzhytskyi (ФОП Станіслав Невмержицький), individual proprietor

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