The latest film from Sergei Loznitsa – the Ukrainian director of diversely miserable films such as My Joy and A Gentle Creature – begins with scenes that will resonate with viewers throughout the world.
We meet a bunch of citizens apparently preparing for a film shoot. We appear to be in a recreation of a war zone. The work under construction is, in fact, an elaborate fake news segment focusing on supposed survivors of a “fascist” assault. The film’s internal truths turn out to be more horrible than those invented by the journalistic fraudsters.
A film-maker of no little ambition, Loznitsa constructs his film in form of 13 equally cynical, comparably despairing vignettes. The unavoidable topic is the conflict between Ukrainian nationalists and Russia's proxy Donetsk "People's Republic" in eastern Ukraine.
As is the way of anthology films, some segments work more effectively than others. But the desire to spread plague about both houses is maintained with impressive rigour throughout. There has rarely been a better example of universal truths being revealed through particular histories.
There is more here about the unreliability of the media (old and new). A woman who has been falsely accused dumps a hefty bucket of ordure onto a local official. A German journalist runs foul of soldiers who look to be Russians pretending to be locals. A man is tied to a pole in the street and taunted by a slavering mob.
Donbass offers some superficial similarities to Tales from the Golden Age, the state-of-old-Romania compilation with which Cristian Mungiu followed up 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, and, sure enough, the gifted cinematographer Oleg Mutu worked on all three projects. His camera uses long takes to work its way among busy crowds contemplating terrible things. The energy offers some relief.
But this remains a very dark comedy that groans under the grim detritus of a still intractable conflict.
Opens on April 26th