Maidan

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

Sergey Loznitsa

Starring

N/A

Anticipation.

A new movie from Cannes darling Sergei Loznitsa is always welcome.

Enjoyment.

A bold, objective document of the rise and fall of a protest movement.

In Retrospect.

A vital film.

An popular uprising in Ukraine is captured by the calm, collected director Sergei Loznitsa in all its abject horror.

Even though Sergei Loznitsa’s extraordinary documentary, Maidan, is very specifically concerned with the collectivised political upheaval which occurred in Ukraine’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) during early 2014, it also offers a bitterly universal commentary on what director King Vidor referred to as ‘The Crowd’.

The story arc is as conventional as any Hollywood blockbuster you care to mention, with barter-town idealism and community action eventually scuppered by the rubber bullets of government mandated law enforcement. In fact, it feels more like an opera than a movie, its slowburn crescendo leading to calamitous catastrophe, and then segueing into a moving epilogue which offers a moment of quiet introspection.

The pacing is deliberately mellow, as the film offers a personal reflection on daily life inside the Euromaidan encampment, so-called as a reference to the protest movement’s commitment to Ukraine’s bolstered union with the EU rather than a strengthening of bonds with Russia and the Kremlin. The camera remains static for most of the film, moving only when personal safety dictates.

Loznitsa stands and observes the melée, and the camera at times doesn’t seem to be framing any specific action. You’ll have a guy wander in half-way through the shot and start bellowing the national anthem. Or there will be an unseen figure under a pile of blankets, and around him/her, people carrying on with food distribution and general organising. This isn’t a film about individuals, it’s about how people operate as a mass movement.

The early sequences present a vision of ramshackle utopia, where an unspoken accord between protesters leads to the smooth running of this functioning, single-serve society. No money is ever seen changing hands as people hand out sandwiches and coffee, sometimes to passers by looking for a pick-me-up, often to those who’ve just received a severe police beating. Yet the presence of money – big money – is felt, as protesters carry uniform metal riot shields, addresses are made from a tinpot rock festival-style stage, and there’s even a jaunty Europop anthem which articulates their woes.

Even though Loznitsa films from inside the camp, he does little to actually substantiate his solidarity with the protesters. Maidan is political by proxy, but it is primarily a document of process. It’s not about the content of the slogans, it’s about the dissemination of slogans and the formulation of slogans. Though the police or the national guard are not personalised in the same way as the protestors, there’s still a feeling that the depiction of violence arrives without any real blame attached to it. Armed units circle the square and fire rounds of teargas as a dispersal method.

Meanwhile, activists cleave up paving stones to lob alongside their Molotov cocktails. Who cast the first stone? The film refuses to answer. But it does suggest that human brutality is something that is arrived at very quickly and naturally, and can appear frighteningly apocalyptic when framed in front of burning tyre mountains and screeching fireworks.

Published 19 Feb 2015

Tags: Sergei Loznitsa

Anticipation.

A new movie from Cannes darling Sergei Loznitsa is always welcome.

Enjoyment.

A bold, objective document of the rise and fall of a protest movement.

In Retrospect.

A vital film.

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