Pigeons sit tattered on the fallen roof. Hit by a Russian bomb, the house is just an uninhabitable pile of rubble. The man who lived there was about to start repairing the damage of the war. His neighbor found the torn body and buried it in the garden.
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Now, like many in the neighborhood, he has taken refuge from the constant bombing in the basement of a church in Mariupol. From the outside, the stone building, surrounded by two large trees, looks like a factory. In the yard, the remains of the rubble were swept away and soup was made. A few streets away, against the backdrop of a burning tower, two men are trying to get a generator out of a house after rotting corpses.
Hanna Belobrova and Donya Seshaof completed the film
A moving camera escorts the men with the device to the church grounds. “Pay attention to your step, manta,” says one of them (according to English translations). This refers to the man behind the camera, Lithuanian filmmaker Mantas Kvidaravichus. He had already filmed in the city in 2015 for the documentary “Mariopol”.
He wanted to bring the war raging in the Donetsk region and the people affected by it closer to the world. When Kvedaravičius discovered the deteriorating situation in the city in March 2022, he automatically stopped filming a feature film in Uganda and traveled to Mariupol again with his Ukrainian partner.
They wanted to help the people they met during their first stay – and to continue making the film ever since. But only a few weeks later, on March 30 of this year, Kvedaravičius was first captured by Russian soldiers and then killed (according to reports from staff, friends and colleagues that differed in details but were essentially the same).
Mantas Kvedaravičius consciously accepted these dangers. It was important for him to show what is happening in closed war zones from the perspective of direct participation.
The fact that this movie was shot despite his violent death is largely due to the commitment of the people around him. They saw the collected material and took it in a carefully processed form. Critically involved partner Hanna Bilobrova and editorial friend Dounia Sichov, who credits Mantas Kvedaravičius as director in the film’s final credits and refers to themselves as assistant directors.
[In Berlin im Delphi Lux und im Wolf Kino]
They orchestrated the visuals and sounds into a 150-minute film, which, in addition to its direct dedication to Kvidaravius, also shows respect for the director’s murdered legacy in the montage restricted to many long shots. Also noteworthy is the gesture of the Cannes Film Festival, which included work on the out-of-competition program at the last minute in May.
The film presents oppressive images. You meet people brutally torn into the abyss at the beginning of spring. And you see a ruined place across the board. The camera’s wide screen also repeatedly captures long shots from windows above devastated roofs to a distance, where the huge complex of besieged steelworks can be seen at Azov and other industrial facilities.
Sometimes the camera is zoomed in obsessively like in a horror movie – sometimes the expansive cityscape looks romantic in the evening light and the rockets glide along the horizon like twinkling shooting stars.
But there is a violent thunder to the battle that permeates the film from the first minute and also hurts in the cinema chair. Near and more fires swarms of black smoke billow into the sky. In the end, the church representative urges those who have fled to the church to leave. But where?