Review: La Palisiada
- The feature debut by Ukrainian director Philip Sotnychenko, homing in on a police investigation, inherits the best traditions of slow cinema
Ukraine, 1996. In a few months’ time, an independent state will sign Protocol No 6 to the European Convention on Human Rights, on the abolition of the death penalty. But now, in a dark, underground chamber, the person responsible for the murder of a police colonel is shot at point-blank range. His body is packed in a bag, and the traces of blood on the tiles are washed off with water.
This case, which practically became a personal vendetta, is being investigated by forensic psychiatrist Alexander (Andrii Zhurba) and investigator Ildar (Novruz Hikmet). The crime was committed in Western Ukraine, where Alexander and Ildar travel to from Kyiv. Here, in Uzhgorod, they meet the widow of the murdered man and send him off on his final journey to the sounds of the Ruthenian folk song “Oh Sheep, My Sheep”. At home, Alexander has a little son, and Ildar has a daughter.
These two young people appear in a strange and rather long prologue that gives us an insight into the subculture of young artists (one of whom is played by a non-professional actor, director Yarema Malashchuk). A cosy evening in the company of the older generation ends with a shocking pistol shot. The family ties between the characters play a key role in connecting the dots in La Palisiada [+see also:
interview: Philip Sotnychenko
film profile] by Philip Sotnychenko, screening in the Tiger Competition at IFFR.
According to the director, a “lapalissade” is a philological term that Alexander likes to use to show off in the company of his colleagues. Sotnychenko, who previously shot the short film The Nail in a pseudo-documentary style, is devilishly attentive to small details in his full-length debut, meticulously reconstructing the life and traditions of the mid-1990s. The actors do not perform in his film; they “live”. Sotnychenko does not prevent them from existing organically in the era, recreating the style of the “Ukrainian New Wave”, which is somewhat close to the Romanian and Georgian cinema of recent years. The audience is immersed in the world of these imperfect heroes, to whom everything is fair game – be it a glass of horilka while watching the Ukrainian band Vatra, a visit to a children's concert or a loud farewell to the police chief as he takes his retirement.
However, La Palisiada is more of a political work than it might seem at first glance. The final scene of the shooting was filmed in a prison in Bucha, a city that later became a grim symbol of Russian war crimes. And the spirit of imperial colonialism looms over the movie throughout, both in the Russian speech by the father of one of the heroines, and in the burdensome legacy of punitive measures that are so far removed from European standards. Sotnychenko masterfully copes with the task of creating a special screen world within the overarching context of the retro-detective genre. Now we can safely say that Ukrainian cinema has been enriched with another masterpiece created by the younger generation of filmmakers.
La Palisiada was produced by Contemporary Ukraine Cinema (CUC) and Viatel.
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