Review: Everything Will Not Be Fine
- With their first feature-length documentary, maybe Romania's Adrian Pîrvu and Ukraine's Helena Maksyom do not reach the place they were headed to, but they get exactly what they needed
It is hardly unusual for a filmmaker to start working on a certain topic, only to end up with a completely different film. Even more so with documentaries, where the research and protagonists will often take you in unexpected directions. But rarely has this aspect been so obvious as in Everything Will Not Be Fine [+see also:
film profile], the first feature-length documentary by Romania's Adrian Pîrvu and Ukraine's Helena Maksyom, which has just won the Awards for Best Ukrainian Feature Film and Best Director at the Odesa International Film Festival (see the news).
Pîrvu was born in 1986, three months after the Chernobyl disaster. His pregnant mother went to the USSR on a business trip, and her son was born blind. After a couple of operations, doctors managed to bring back the sight in his right eye, but he is still struggling with glaucoma to this day. Feeling alone and directionless at 25, he decided to make a film about people similarly affected by the nuclear accident. As he says in the feature, he did it to start feeling better about himself.
During his search for interviewees, in Kyiv he finds Maksyom, a journalist with a well-paid but boring marketing job. Her ailment, though never detailed, concerns her backbone, and after having surgery that does not fully fix her but helps with her chronic pain, she joins Pîrvu in making the film. And they become romantically involved, which is evident in the very first scene, where they film each other in bed, eating ice cream.
The pair goes to Chernobyl and the areas in Ukraine and Belarus hit hardest by the disaster, and also to Munich, for another of Pîrvu's operations. At one point, Maksyom also has surgery in Lithuania. Throughout the film, they visit people with various conditions, including blindness and bone diseases. Some of these segments are quite touching, but they remain on the fringes of the narrative, which is really about the co-directors' inner worlds and their relationship. "None of the people we met dwell on Chernobyl as the cause of their illness; they have accepted it as a fact and let it go," says Pîrvu in the voice-over.
The documentary is structured almost like a dialogue between the two co-directors, also using Maksyom's own voice-over. But it is clear that it is Pîrvu who leads the way, despite Maksyom really emerging as a more sober, clear-minded character who is ready to call a spade a spade and be honest with both her partner and herself. Their relationship is loving and tender, but is that enough?
The title of the film is bitter, but its intention is quite the opposite to hopelessness or despair. They will forever struggle with their ailments, and there is no definite solution. They know this, but acceptance comes to them both in different ways. Perhaps Pîrvu hoped that it would be precisely the completion of this feature that would help him overcome the depression and doubts he has about himself.
The documentary has a raw, intimate quality that stems from the fact that the two directors/protagonists use the camera almost as if they were making a home video. Paradoxically, this is what makes it a strong film: so many personal aspects overlap in it that it is impossible to separate what would represent "life" and what would be its "cinematic" part. The editing by Alexandru Radu, known for his work on complex fictional narratives, such as The Paper Will Be Blue or Two Lottery Tickets [+see also:
interview: Paul Negoescu
film profile], is restrained and lets the material really breathe, always making sure the viewer knows what time and space they are in at any given moment, including occasional flashbacks and flash-forwards.
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