How a Ukrainian filmmaker warned us about Putin’s Russia for years

Sergei Loznitsa’s Donbass, the Ukrainian filmmaker’s movie that made the festival rounds in the now-seemingly ancient yearOf 2018, kicks off with two different vignettes. We watch an older woman getting rings put around her eyes in a makeup trailer — she’s part of a “cast” of “everyday people,”Fake cops and corpses will be used to sell the aftermath of a Nationalist. “attack”In the name of proRussian TV propaganda. According to an intertitle, 2014 is the year. “Occupied Ukraine.”A helper leads her and her fellow actor to the set, as a controlled explosive is detonated. The TV cameras have already started to roll and we are now able to see the inside of the political meeting. A high-ranking minister has just concluded the singing of the country’s national anthem and is about to start the proceedings when a woman walks in and dumps a bucket of thick, brown fecal matter onto his head. The participants get into a heated argument. Loznitsa’s message is clear: The separatist catastrophe has been staged. The shite is real. Welcome to Putin’s Russia.

Arguably Ukraine’s greatest living filmmaker and inarguably one of the most cutting, incisive critics of Eastern Europe’s past, present and unstable future, Loznitsa has been lobbing grenades like those two sketches — the first of many that turns Donbass‘s abyss-black comedy into a crime-scene tragedy — since the beginning of the 21st century. However, unless you’re a MUBI subscriber or regularly trawl film festivals for information, chances are you haven’t heard of his work. (Especially because the Venn diagram separating these three categories is essentially an unblemished circular.) He won the Un Certain Regard directing award at Cannes for this satire four years ago. It is now being released in the United States. The timing is perfect, which is both regrettable and sickening.

That is why it is important to note that Babi Yar. Context,His documentary 2021 about the massacre of Ukrainian Jews in Kyiv during WWII began showing over the past few weeks. News about mass graves discovered in BuchaThe film began to circulate. Like many of Loznitsa’s documentaries — his nonfiction work makes up a little over three-quarters of his filmography — it uses an abundance of archival footage in order to turn a history lesson into an insistent reminder of forgotten horrors, a chronicle of his nation’s longstanding struggle for survival and a cautionary tale. The use ContextHis title includes multitudes here. If you are located in New York City, the IFC Center will not only screen your footage but also offer screening services. Donbass but also showing several of Loznitsa’s earlier works, notably the hard-to-find Maidan(2014). This is a crucial timeline of the “Revolution of Dignity”Viktor Fedorovych Yanukovych Yanukovych, former President and exile in Russia was ousted.

All three of these movies fill in the margins and lob Molotovs in regards to what’s happening right now in his native country (Loznitsa currently lives in Berlin), and all three exemplify how the filmmaker has used the medium to both praise and criticize his homeland. “I want my country to get better,”  Slate quoted the filmmaker as saying these words. “It’s crucial to acknowledge the current problems and to think about them. If somebody doesn’t want to think about it, it’s their problem, not mine.” That’s one of his less incendiary recent statements regarding Putin’s war on the Ukrainian people. Loznitsa’s open letter to the European Film Academy The accused were the organizationOf “bury[ing] its head in the sand…. Is it really possible that you — humanists, human rights and dignity advocates, champions of freedom and democracy — are afraid to call a war a war, to condemn barbarity and voice your protest?”The group then fired him. Loznitsa was outraged that broad boycotting Russian artists was not just a nationalist reaction to an international war crime, but also a matter of public safety. “a gift to Kremlin propagandists from the Ukrainian film academy,”He was Summarily expelled from the academy also.

It’s now ironic that, given the way that the mucky-mucks of the greater world-film community have either shunned the filmmaker or been on the receiving end of his more caustic comments, curious American moviegoers may finally be the most receptive to what he’s had to say about longstanding Russian aggression in the region and how he’s said it. A colleague of mine lamented last week that while it’s wonderful that the most prominent veteran filmmaker from Ukraine may be “having a moment,” it would have been nice if it didn’t need a globally recognized war crime, and the devastation of the country that Loznitsa holds near and dear to his heart, in order to inspire it.

Irony is, however, a primary color in this filmmaker’s palette. Let’s go back to Donbass, the most prominent of his films currently circulating right now (and the most essential to catch): It’s a satire that’s constructed around a series of separate, yet occasionally intersecting sketches that were loosely inspired around cellphone footage and YouTube clips made during the War in Donbass in 2014. A corrupt officials tells his employees that the theft of medical supplies has been corrected, before it’s revealing that he was masterminding the scam. Pro-Russian separatists seize food and conscript fleeing citizens to fight or steal them. Weddings can turn into chaos “patriotic” free-for-all. Traitors are treated as tourist attractions and mocked, then almost killed in a town square.

The effect is like watching a mural being painted from the outside in, slowly revealing a society fueled by power, corruption, lies — and an outside force that’s exploiting the nation’s interior rot in the name of conquest. It was shocking to see all of this on a screen in 2018. To see all of this in 2022 is to feel like you’ve stepped on a landmine that someone had been screaming about Being right thereOnly a few steps from where everyone was trodding for years. Loznitsa once dramatized and documented Russia’s last invasion of Ukraine. He’s now living through this one, albeit from a distance. The pain is still felt through the noise. DonbassEnds with a callback back to its opening, which revisits the previous. “bad actors”They were the ones who stopped fake news. The 12-minute-long scene from the hoax will soon become the setting for a mass atrocity. Watching it unfold in near-real time is nightmarish — and a nudge that what’s happening outside of the frame, in the real world, is far, far worse.


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