Review: Mariupolis 2
- CANNES 2022: Mantas Kvedaravičius died in Mariupol, but the footage he filmed has been salvaged and has now been presented at Cannes as a new feature-length documentary
When the Russian invasion of Ukraine started, Lithuanian director Mantas Kvedaravičius immediately went back to Mariupol, where he made his 2016 film Mariupolis [+see also:
interview: Mantas Kvedaravicius
film profile], to document life under attack. As he was trying to leave at the end of March, he was killed, and his fiancée Hanna Bilobrova managed to get out with the footage. Billed as a co-director, she cobbled it together with editor Dounia Sicho (who also worked on Mariupolis), and the resulting film, Mariupolis 2 [+see also:
film profile], has just had its world premiere at Cannes, as a Special Screening.
In the first feature, Kvedaravičius used patience and his exquisite cinematic eye to find real poetry in the everyday life of a divided society in the shadow of the threat of war, with several characters coming in and out of the film and taking a back seat to the bigger picture. Mariupolis 2 focuses on individual protagonists even less as it follows a large group of men, women, children and pets who shelter in the basement of a Methodist church. This being another completely observational documentary, no background information is provided, but we surmise that the group consists of about 40-50 people.
Even though the film opens quite dramatically, with a missile whizzing by too close for comfort and the director himself running for cover with his camera, it really immerses us in life – and death – during wartime, in a raw and completely unembellished manner. And such life consists mostly of waiting, with long stretches of looking at the panorama of the ruined city through broken windows, as plumes of smoke rise in the distance, to the sound of gunfire and bombs. Women cook the food in large pots on an open fire in the churchyard, men go scavenging for tools, nails and spare parts to fix doors and windows. They find a generator in a house in front of which two corpses are already starting to stink.
We have already seen images of the destroyed city, and now we get to spend 112 minutes with the people whose homes and loved ones are gone forever. There even seems to be very little fear – when an explosion resounds in the distance, they instinctively duck or flinch, but then go on about their business, as there is always something to take care of in such a situation. They talk about things of immediate concern, sometimes venturing into memories or, rarely, opinions, but this documentary being a one-man operation, a lot of the dialogue is hardly audible, and even less is subtitled, which is definitely by design. Consisting primarily of long shots, the film asks the viewer to be present and observe, rather than offering a political point of view or any significant information.
As the enemy forces approach, we are now able to see not only smoke, but also fires against the evening sky. The church is about to close, and the people are asking where they are supposed to go. The priest, who earlier insisted they had survived because they were close to God, as opposed to those who took shelter in the factory or the theatre, gives no answer.
Before television, people would get their information about distant wars from newsreels that they watched in cinemas. Ford, Huston and Capra famously made propaganda films during World War II. Now, in an era when the information war, arguably already won by the Ukrainians, is just as important as the actual one, we get to see a major artistic documentary premiere at the world's most important festival, just days after the city it was made in fell into the hands of the aggressor. This in itself is an historical event.
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