Now Reading
Sergei Loznitsa’s Doc on Ukrainian Life Today

Sergei Loznitsa’s Doc on Ukrainian Life Today

Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa’s filmography could be neatly divided into three genre buckets: feature films (the last two were Donbass and A Gentle Creature, both from the last decade), documentaries compiled entirely from archive sources (The Kiev Trial), and documentaries about current events, filmed by Loznitsa himself and small crews. The most well-known example from the last category would be Maidan (2014), a stirring, astringent, mosaic-like portrait of the demonstrations against Russian-supported president Viktor Yanukovych in Kiev’s main city square in 2013-14, which eventually devolved into violence.

With his latest, The Invasion, Loznitsa gives Maidan a cinematic sibling, a work that bears a strong family resemblance given its urgency and majestic, tragic sweep as it builds a portrait of a nation at war. But while the high-vérité lack of voiceover, identifying subtitles or editorializing follows the same modus operandi deployed with Maidan, there’s an even stronger sense here of direct engagement by the filmmaker, of empathy, rage and, dare we call it, national pride.

The Invasion

The Bottom Line

Spare but richly moving.

Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Special Screenings)
Director: Sergei Loznitsa

2 hours 25 minutes

That’s not to say the film is jingoistic in any way, and to its credit it even includes the sound of Ukrainian citizens complaining about President Volodymyr Zelensky and his regime in the early runnings. That’s not something that ever seems to happen in the many documentaries that have come out of Ukraine since the Russians invaded in February 2022.

See Also

There’s no question Loznitsa’s loyalities lie with his fellow countryman, but he and his crew don’t make themselves part of the story like the journalist-filmmakers behind 20 Days in Mariupol, not that there’s anything wrong with that first-person strategy. The closest The Invasion comes is having passers-by looking straight at the camera, curious for the fraction of a second perhaps about who’s filming them. Most of the people who pass before Loznitsa and directors of photography Evgeny Adamenko and Piotr Pawlus’s wide-angle lenses are too busy getting on with their lives to stop and talk to filmmakers.  

With nearly two years’ worth of footage to work with, and what must have been a formidable structural task in the edit suite (kudos, perhaps even medals, are due to Danielius Kokanauskis and Loznitsa himself), the material seems to naturally fall into chapters and sections. The rhythm of seasonal changes is felt as one winter is succeeded by another, and a summer brings lush foliage but no break in the war. Meanwhile, another kind of rhythm is established as we move between footage of funerals (scenes from one start the film), marriages, new parents in a maternity hospital, childhood (elementary school kids moving to bomb shelters during an air raid, where they sit at another set of little desks), military service, and then more funerals, not always necessarily in that order.

Voices, like those of the people bitching about Zelensky, can often be heard. But given Loznitsa’s signature preference for long shots that take in crowds like a panoramic 18th-century canvas, it’s not always clear who is talking and if they’re even in the frame. And yet there are some moments here of wrenching intimacy, especially in the scenes in the maternity ward, for instance one in which a father, dressed like so many men in combat fatigues, meets his newborn son for the first time. And despite the grimness of the war, there’s time to follow some volunteers who drive around near the front delivering care packages and tactical medicine, and who take time out to visit a pre-school — one dressed as Santa Claus and another as a gigantic pink cat (also with combat fatigues on) — to give presents to the kids.

In typically gruff Slavic style, the kids are jokingly warned they won’t get any sweets unless they smile, so all comply. But there’s no hiding the trauma that’s visible in everyone’s faces here, from the little children singing songs in the bunker to the stoic older woman rebuilding her bombed-out home one brick at a time. The result is a deeply moving, poetic work of cinema that deserves to be seen well beyond the festival circuit.

Copyright © MetaMedia™ Capital Inc, All right reserved

Scroll To Top