Saturday, 6 September 2014

MAIDAN - TIFF 2014 (TIFF WAVELENGTHS) - Review By Greg Klymkiw

To see Maidan is to see a great film.
To see Maidan as a Ukrainian is to
experience a series of epiphanies.

Maidan (2014)
Dir. Sergei Loznitsa

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Part of me wishes I could just respond to this great documentary as, one supposes, it should be - as a stunning, stirring work of film art that adheres to the tenets of direct cinema by simply focusing upon three key months of the revolution in Ukraine from late 2013 to early 2014. And make no mistake, Maidan, by Sergei Loznitsa is a grand achievement of the highest order. Other than occasional inter-titles describing the historical context in a simple, fact-based manner, Loznitsa allows his exquisite footage to speak for itself.

Using long takes, beautifully composed with no camera movement, the film captures key moments, both specific historical incidents and deeply, profoundly moving human elements. As such, the film evokes stirring and fundamental narrative, thematic and emotional sensations which place us directly in the eye of the storm.

The storm, ultimately, is of ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovitch's doing. After all, it was he who refused to align Ukraine with the European Union and instead, as a corrupt puppet of Russia, cut a deal Ukraine did not want - to align itself with the pig Vladimir Putin and his desire to swallow Ukraine into Russia.

The film simply records the actions of thousands upon thousands of Ukrainians as they protested in revolt against Yanukovitch and Putin. In the background we hear stirring speeches, but in the foreground we see the real Ukrainian people as they set up camp in the Maidan of Kyiv, Independence Square.

It is in the Maidan that Loznitsa captures moments of peace - often those individuals who are strenuously volunteering to provide warmth, shelter and food to those protestors in need of it - as well as moments of friction and violence as we see Yanukovitch's Gestapo-like police inching ever closer towards the people. One of the most stirring moments is seeing ordinary people smashing the cobblestone in the streets to be hurled towards the heavily armed pro-Russian forces. Most sadly, we see Kyiv burn. And, then there are the shots fired and the public funerals of simple folk who have died as heroes. There is very little in this film that does not evoke tears of both joy and sorrow.

Though some might argue this approach eschews a political perspective, I'd argue strenuously that its direct cinema approach cannot help being political given the subjects and subject matter. That Loznitsa chooses three separate sequences involving groups of people ranging from huge to intimate as they sing the Ukrainian National Anthem and in each case bracketed between highly charged moments detailing the events of the revolution, there is clearly not only a political subtext, but one which feels like it's a choice the filmmaker has indeed made to accentuate the need and importance of this revolution.

The lyrics of the anthem Shche ne vmerla Ukraina have always been translated as "Ukraine Has Not Yet Died", but in recent years, slight modifications from the early 2000s to the original verse written by Pavlo Chubynsky in the 19th Century provide the somewhat more hopeful "Ukraine's Glory has not yet Perished." It is this latter version which we hear within the film and yet, to anyone who grew up singing the original lyrics, there's a sense that no, Ukraine has not yet died.

This brings me to my aforementioned desire to respond to Loznitsa's film solely on an aesthetic level, but the fact remains that it's virtually impossible for me to do so.

As a Ukrainian-Canadian raised within a strongly Ukrainian Nationalist culture, the film's qualities as cinema are accentuated in ways that go much deeper. Anytime I hear the anthem, I soar, but maybe most importantly my own feelings about Ukraine take on an added intensity when I see the events Loznitsa has chosen to capture based upon the following key personal elements:

1. Though I was born in Canada, the first time I set foot on Ukrainian soil infused me with a sense of finally "belonging" to something, some place I'd always imagined, but had not yet experienced fully. This only intensified as I spent more time in the country - including, I must add, Eastern Ukraine, where much of the current strife now exists.

2. My apartment in Kyiv was a mere half-block away from the Maidan. Seeing all the locations I'd become so intimately acquainted with and have such fond memories of (including the McDonald's with its strange cyrillic menu items pronounced as "Beeg Mek" or "Da-bl Chees-boorgoor"), forced me to experience Loznitsa's film with the added emotions of one who lived there for an extended period and had come to recognize and love something that became all too real.

Witnessing these events as captured by Loznitsa is a moving document of human solidarity in the face of corruption. Witnessing them as a Ukrainian, however, is to experience every beat, word and action as a series of epiphanies. Maidan is a film that places the revolution in the broader context of what is happening in Ukraine now, but in its simple, beautiful and staggering way, it is a film of considerable importance as it expresses how we must all choose revolution when the criminal actions of very few affect the lives of the majority.

THE FILM CORNER rating: ***** 5-Stars

Maidan screens at the Toronto International Film Festival in the Wavelengths series. For further information, visit the TIFF 2014 website by clicking HERE.