Directed by: Sergei Loznitsa
Script by: Sergei Loznitsa
Produced by: Heino Deckert
Starring: Tamara Yatsenko, Liudmila Smorodina, Olesya Zhurakovskaya, Boris Kamorzin, Sergei Russkin, Petro Panchuk, Irina Plesnyaeva, Zhanna Lubgane, Vadim Dobuvsky, Alexander Zamurayev, Gerogy Deliev, Valeriu, Andriuta, Konstantin Itunin, Valery Antoniuk, Nina Antonova, Natalia Buzko, Sergei Kolesov, Svetlana Kolesova, Sergei Smeyan.
Donbass, named because of the region in Eastern Ukraine where the film begins and ends, isn’t a typical war film.
This is a confusing and absurd film of moments during a war between the Ukraine regular army made up of volunteers and the separatist gangs supported by Russian troops.
The focus is on the ground amongst the people living their everyday lives in a world of chaos with chapters like bombs dropped on a bus in front while laughing on the phone, waiting in a car in line at yet another check point.
And a raucous wedding filled with congratulatory soldiers with code-names like Lumber Jack and Coupon.
It’s a disturbing mix of footage shot in freezing weather and underground bunkers where civilians are forced to live without water, heat and a working toilet – like people from the ‘stone age’.
This is director and scriptwriter, Sergei Loznitsa’s fourth feature film. He describes Donbass as a fiction based on true events, quoting Varlam Shalamov in his short story, PAIN: it’s a film that’s, ‘a distorted reflection in a curved mirror of the underground world’.
And it’s a cold world with a constant undercurrent of threat.
One chapter shows a German journalist who’s pulled from a vehicle at a check point for questioning – the soldiers happy to have found a ‘fascist’: even if you don’t think of yourself as a fascist, your grandfather certainly was.
Only for them all to get bombed anyway.
I wouldn’t say the film was overly violent, but the violence shown is disturbing because it all seems so senseless.
I spent a lot of the time watching the film in confusion, trying to figure out who was on what side.
The civilians shown to be just as confused, one scene showing a middle-aged woman talking to a volunteer captured and tied to a pole with, ‘Extermination Squad Volunteer’ taped to his chest, asking when the bus will arrive… and how she can’t walk as far as she used to…
Then to see the man inevitably get almost based to death isn’t really my style of entertainment.
I get the statement made here – the degradation of people living amongst the senselessness of war – but I found the viewing extremely dry; the incongruity leaving a feeling of shock mixed with a lingering bitterness.
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