Tuesday, February 05, 2019

FCS ’19: Flight of a Bullet

You can’t see this film in Russia. Putin’s thugs won’t let you. They stormed the stage to prevent its screening at Artdocfest. Ironically, they took issue with filmmaker Beata Bubenec’s portrayal of the pro-Ukrainian Aidar militia, even though most rational people would consider its political implications to be decidedly mixed. It is also hard to accuse her of selective editing, since the film consists of one single continuous take. Viewers can judge for themselves when Bubenec’s Flight of a Bullet screens during this year’s Film Comment Selects.

Aidar has a reputation, fairly or not, for unjustly detaining suspected Russian separatist supporters, which basically happens within the first ten minutes of the film. While surveying the damage done to a bridge, a surly bystander starts heckling Bubenec’s escort, so he places him under “arrest.” That definitely happens, but aside from the inconvenience, nothing particularly terrible happens to the wise-cracker. In fact, he offers Aidar unsolicited intel on the separatists stationed in his village (whether it is legit or not, who can say?).

Frankly, the film should end right there. Instead, the Flight continues rather aimlessly from there. Bubenec deflects some rather course advances from some of the Aidar members, while fixing snacks and just generally hanging out with her subjects. It is not great cinema, especially compared to the first half.

You could also question Bubenec’s judgement as a documentarian, but the Russian-loyalist, anti-Ukrainian thugs basically bail her out. Thanks to their violent attack, which included some sort of noxious pepper spray (or worse), Flight is now an important document that has significance beyond itself. Ironically, they also do Aidar a solid. While their extralegal detention would be problematic, it now appears completely benign compared to the violence exercised by the Separatist mob (reportedly Russian Liberation Movement South East Radical Bloc, SERB, a criminal separatist group granted sanctuary by Putin). Thanks to SERB, Aidar looks moderate and responsible.

There is some worthy boots-on-the-ground reporting in Flight that cuts both ways (or at least it would in a more logical world). The continuous unedited take lends confidence to the film’s veracity, but it goes on too long. It would have been more interesting to follow-up with the detainee and the information he volunteered to his interrogators than listening in on the Aidar fighter arguing with his girlfriend over the phone. It is interesting, but highly imperfect. Recommended on principle, just because Putin’s knuckle-dragging puppets don’t want us to see it, Flight of a Bullet screens this Thursday (2/7), as part of the 2019 Film Comment Selects.