‘Donbass’

donbassRaw and uncompromising, award-winning director Sergey Loznitsa, known for documentaries (Maidan) and social commentary features (A Gentle Creature), draws together a montage of several unrelated stories and events in a war-torn eastern Ukraine.

Moments are disrupted by sudden mortar explosions, armed militia flag down a local bus in search of food, residents are forced to live in squalor in the basement of their apartment block to avoid shelling.

It’s oppressive but sadly all-too-familiar viewing as (Ukrainian) Loznitsa comments on Russian policy in their support of a war in the former Soviet State that’s disrupted the country since 2014. Individual vignettes are powerful but there’s little historical or political context provided to help understand exactly what is unfolding in front of us.

Rating: 51%

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‘Woman at War’

womanatwarEntertaining enviro-political narrative as an eminently watchable Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir (Metalhead, The Seagull’s Laughter) takes on the aluminium industry polluting the beauty of the natural Icelandic countryside.

With the inadvertent help of a twin sister and a lonely farmer, Halla quietly gets things done, in spite of the establishment reacting in the belief it’s the actions of organised international terrorism.

Writer/director Benedikt Erlingsson (Of Horses and Men, Polite People) avoids overtly agitprop political speak, allowing wry humour and understated opinion speak for itself – along with the juxtaposing of the ruins of a Ukraine destroyed by over-industrialisation (a gentle subplot to the story).

Rating: 64%

Screened as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival

‘When the Trees Fall’

when treesAn odd, fractured, surreal rebellion of a feature, an angry, multifaceted narration of aimless, unstructured poverty in contemporary Ukraine.

Director Marysia Nikitiuk, in her feature film debut, mixes urban and rural poverty, violence and passion, eroticism and misery, realism and fantasy. Several interlinked stories evolve at the same time – a four year-old girl living with her nanna in a rural setting that descends into violence; a teenage Larysa (a powerful and convincing Anastasia Putovit) rebelling against her home life with her young lover on the run from the mob.

Sadly, Nikitiuk’s grim realism is too unfocussed in its storytelling, creating a confusion of intent – which is a pity, as the stunning, febrile opening scene and its lyrical eroticism created a high expectation.

Rating: 38%

Screened as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival