Sergey Loznitsa’s “Donbass” from 2018 is certainly not dated. Considering the Russian rampage in the Ukraine it is chillingly relevant.
A dozen or so vignettes explain what life is like in the Eastern Ukraine where Russian separatists attempt to steal the Donbass for Holy Mother Russia.
It is difficult to categorize the film into a neat package. It is a lesson in absurdity, colonialism and very dark humour. One gets a very Monty Python and Kafka feeling which is more chilling as the Russian backed separatists seem to believe the nonsense from a script that must have been written in The Russian Ministry of Propaganada.
The film starts off with how Russian propaganda is staged portraying Ukrainian fighters as monsters but the whole story is brought to the screen by actors. Poor actors not getting paid! And they are executed after their job is done.
The Russians then come to a maternity hospital and explain to the staff how corrupt the hospital director is stealing food, medicine and surgical instruments! The whole visit is a sham designed to show how magnificent the Russians are in stocking the hospital fridges with sausages, meat, Snicker’s Bars and medicine. The scene with the Russian militia drinking pickle juice is a new modern classic.
Another new classic scene would have to be the Russians boarding a bus for a security check but t is more a question of trying to get some lard for their soup.
There are rants of Russians at a checkpoint about how they are cleaning up the area of fascists. The poor German news team getting lambasted by a Russian officer for being fascists. We cleaned you guys up in WW2 and we are going to clean out the Donbass of fascists.
A suspected Ukrainian “exterminator” is humiliated publicly in the streets. It is a revolting scene showing the pack animal frenzy of the Russians. The same riff raff then are at a wedding ceremony full of patriotic Russian songs with some of the abusers of the exterminator attending the riotous wedding ceremony.
There are also scenes of violence and death.
I won’t go into the entire set of vignettes but if you have somewhat of a sardonic smile on your face the vicious and brutal ending of the film will leave you shocked. But of course, with what happened in Bucha and goodness knows where else lately perhaps that is Russian brutality as the new normal facing innocent civilians. At least they stocked the maternity hospital with sausages and didn’t shell it…..yet.
A few of the vignettes may leave you scratching your head but perhaps for a Ukrainian they mean something significant.
You can purchase tickets here https://hotdocs.ca/whats-on/films/donbass. In theatre showings in Toronto will be April 22/23/24/25.
You can see the trailer here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udvEwh54BbM