Set around 2014 in unnamed or lightly fictionalized locales in eastern Ukraine, Sergei Loznitsa’s 2018 knives-out satire serves as a grim foretelling of Russia’s current tragic misadventure in the region. Presented as a series of vignettes, we witness how all strata of society are impacted by the sudden incursion of Ukraine’s domineering neighbor onto its land. An early sequence of a local governmental meeting devolving into chaos as the chairman is drenched by a bucket of feces from the hands of a disgruntled citizen would feel absurd if it didn’t recall so many comparable scenes from the era after the fall of the Soviet Union. Nascent democracies taking their first steps and falling on their faces. But unlike that time, there’s little but cynical opportunism in the air. In another memorable scene, a citizen shows up to claim his stolen vehicle only to learn that the new government has chosen to “expropriate” it for the cause. The man is also strongly encouraged to contribute monetarily to their cause. As his situation sinks in, the man doffs his cap and sighs. His powerlessness is like ours as we watch the news.
Known best for masterfully edited documentaries that often use archival footage to present events from the past in a visceral, immediate way, Loznitsa blurs the lines between fact, fiction, propaganda, documentary, and drama in unsettling ways. I had to do a little research to make sure the Dixie-like flag of the People’s Republic of Novorossiya was made up. In a time when the most banal information is up for debate, this fake documentary reads as much too real. 122 min.