That was just over one year ago. But it isn’t just hindsight that makes this film by Sergei Loznitsa (most famous over here for WW2 drama In the Fog but himself primarily a documentary film maker) appear epic, elegiac and slightly detached from reality.
Filmed during the winter of 2013-2014, this extraordinary film documents 90 days in the civil uprising of Ukrainian citizens against the presidency of Viktor Yanukovych at Maidan Square in Kiev. Loznitsa sets up his cameras in many places over that period, each time recording long, fixed shots of people going about their business while the PA system addresses them from a central stage. Nobody speaks to camera, there’s no voiceover, there is just ambient recording for a soundtrack.
Both the epic magnitude of some of the establishing shots and the hi-def quality of all the images make one expect profundity in their content, but Loznitsa is teasing us. He wants to show that Euromaidan was a thoroughly popular movement of discontent, without big ideological ideas behind it; and so we are treated to an almost carnivalesque parade of differing images of people en masse.
Euromaidan obviously took some organizing, but Loznitsa wants to show the extent to which organization was self-organisation in this case – to counter the Russian view that the whole thing was financed by the CIA. For example, we observe operational details of water and food supply, but even here it is the rhythmic hum of people moving and acting that strikes the viewer.
The viewer can feel passive and detached, nodding off during this hum like a summer day. But the trajectory of the protest is a powerful wake-up call in itself. The building of barricades and the breaking up of cobbled streets may appear to be innocuous, slogging activity; but the mood of the protest changes from one of festival and firework display to one of riot, civil war and street battle. The moments when these phase changes register on the viewer are the strongest in the film.
There’s very little context given to this developing imagery except for some very basic intertitles that explain half a dozen phases of the protest. I think that works well – you can Google the details. What we have here is a brilliant visual testament to the fuzziness of human groupings in general. The relatively few heart-soaring, inspiring moments come with their own caveat: anthemic folk songs and religious ‘smells and bells’ are undeniably beautiful but they can be utilized by any group to get people to do what that group wants. It’s a warning you have to take away from the film.
The extras include a Guardian panel interview that gives some of the context the film lacks.
Review by Colin Dibben
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Maidan comes to DVD on 13 April.