Maïdan: protests in Ukraine

Kazimir Malevich, Morning in the Village after a Snowstorm, 1912, oil on canvas – 80 x 80 cm
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By JOÃO LANARI BO*

Commentary on the film by Sergey Loznitsa

Sergey Loznitsa he is one of the few contemporary filmmakers who has achieved good circulation on the international circuit by making explicitly political films, without concessions – and acting in a risky breach: the border between powerful Russia and its immediate surroundings, Ukraine above all. Maïdan: protests in Ukraine, a documentary about the civil movement against the pro-Moscow presidency of Viktor Yanukovych, in the central square of the Ukrainian capital, is a clear example: filmed in the three months that the event lasted, between December 2013 and February 2014, it became a unique and visceral record.

The popular reaction was due to Viktor Yanukovych's sudden refusal to sign an association agreement with the European Union, after lengthy negotiations. Given the update of the conflict that materialized with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, eight years later, on February 22, 2022, the newspaper The Guardian decided in good time to make the film available on the internet, until the war is over, as can be read in page from YouTube.

Loznitsa – born in 1964 in Belarus and educated in Ukraine – completed his training as a film director at Moscow's Gerasimov Institute, the famous VGIK film school, after graduating in engineering and mathematics, acting as an artificial intelligence researcher in Moscow and, in her spare time, interpreting into Japanese. He joined VGIK in 1991 – the year of the collapse of communism and the breakup of the Soviet Union. His first film, Today we are going to build a house, was held in 1996. The Nazi siege of Leningrad was the focus of Blockada, completed in 2005, which won Loznitsa the prize for the best Russian documentary of the year.

The international reputation was consolidated with the feature films My happiness, by 2010, and in the fog, 2012. In the recent past, it held two powerful statements politicians: Donbass, 2018, anarchic plunge into the conflict that broke out in eastern Ukraine from 2014, shortly after the Maidan protests ended; It is state funeral, 2019, made with archival material from the massive funeral of Joseph Stalin.

Maïdan: Protests in Ukraine, completed in March 2014 in time to be shown at the Cannes Film Festival, is a poignant and minimalist testimony of the events that shook the country, one of the audiovisual records that will not be dated, as pointed out by critics at the time in the Variety. Using almost exclusivelymaster shots” (fixed shots), filmed from strategic points of that urban space, in general of long duration, the film absorbs a complex sound atmosphere, which passes through speeches, slogans, songs, conversations, noises, pepper spray bombs, shots and screams (the sound, as usual, in charge of Vladimir Golovnitsky).

We watch the virtual collective update, with images of interiors (in the initial sequences) and exteriors, without narration or interviews, just the sound mass and movement of the crowd. Volunteers permeate the space to prevent violence and distribute food, groups organize to build barricades with any object that might obstruct movement, from chairs to tires – the song of the supporters italians, Hello Beautiful, has been updated to Ciao Vitya Ciao, alluding to Viktor Yanukovych.

As of January 19, 2014, with the introduction of strong repressive legislation by the cornered government, the temperature begins to heat up: advertisements asking women and children to leave the front line stand out, and volunteers circulating with gas masks. One of the rare camera movements records the release of tear gas near the place where the press was – the cameraman was forced to protect himself so as not to get hurt. Every detail of the master plans came to suggest a state of urgency. Nervous calls over the loudspeaker look for doctors, more shots are heard, the fog settles over the square – in the end, the number of dead is estimated at one hundred.

In a patriotic-nationalist tone, unavoidable in that situation, the Orthodox patriarch celebrates an act in homage to the victims, transformed into national heroes. Soon after, President Yanukovych fled to Russia. as in Blockada, Loznitsa does not interpret: naturally, any decision connected with sound and image editing adopts a point of view. In Maïdan: Protests in Ukraine, however, it was the group of inhabitants gathered in that space who expressed themselves. As the filmmaker pointed out: “A film is not a sociological study. So I prefer viewers to make their own judgment based on what they see. As an author, I must not impose opinions, neither mine nor other people's.

The film collected the multiplicity of subjectivities condensed into a civic consensus. In Maïdan: Protests in Ukraine the struggle, absolutely contemporaneous with obtaining sounds and images, was for self-determination.

*João Lanari Bo é professor of cinema at the Faculty of Communication at the University of Brasilia (UnB).

 

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