Thursday, May 11, 2017

Panorama Europe ’17: Mariupolis

It is hard work enduring a siege, yet the stoic citizenry of Mariupol, Ukraine continue to show up for work each morning as skilled factory laborers, shoemakers, and even zoo keepers. Lithuanian documentarian Mantas Kvedaravicius observes the embattled Ukrainians quietly going about their lives as death and destruction hovers just outside the city limits in Mariupolis (trailer here), which screens during this year’s Panorama Europe, at MoMI.

It is indeed quiet in the eye of the storm. During the first half of the film, the worst chaos we see is entirely domestically produced. Two trams collide, but nobody is hurt and rather astonishingly, they have the line repaired in time for the evening rush. However, there are disconcerting reports of nearby fighting on the radio and the tell-tale signs of military aggression mar buildings on nearly every block.

Obviously, this is a tense time, but musicians still perform concerts and a young couple proceeds with their wedding plan. Perhaps most ironically, Mariupol upholds tradition with their annual May 9th Victory Day celebration. However, things get tragically real when a projectile attack claims innocent victims.

Obviously, Mariupolis will not be part of the Putin hit parade, but it is probably too Wisemanesque to serve a polemical role. Of course, that also means Kvedaravicius maintained his aesthetic and journalistic integrity. Still, there is no question where the film’s sympathies lie.  Throughout Mariupolis, it is clear the Russian-backed separatist terrorists are deliberately targeting civilians and they consequently have no appreciable support within the beleaguered city.

To really understand the Maidan revolution and the subsequent Russian invasion, you need more context than Kvedaravicius supplies (which is precious little). On the other hand, it opens a very personal window into the David-and-Goliath conflict. It is rather poignant to see these taciturn Ukrainians celebrate life, while the Russian puppets outside the city walls embrace death. Recommended for sophisticated documentary watchers, particularly those who appreciate the work of Sergei Loznitsa, Mariupolis screens this Saturday (5/13) at MoMI, as part of this year’s Panorama Europe.