If you’re not familiar with Ukrainian politics, you’ll be at a decided disadvantage when you see Donbass. While you may get the gist of it, I dare say much of the nuance would be lost unless you have some knowledge of that part of the world. Corruption, violent and politics feature in this absurdist comedy-turned-tragedy.
Donbass is an industrial region of Eastern Ukraine. The regular Ukrainian army supported by volunteers are fighting separatists, who in turn are backed by Russian troops. The civilian population is gradually degraded. Society is collapsing. People get on with their lives; but around them all hell’s breaking loose.
The action unfolds in 13 related chapters, some featuring the same characters. They narrate a story which took place in the occupied territories during 2014 and 2015. While the film is a work of fiction, it’s based on real events. Writer and director Sergei Loznitsa collected the material and selected the most vivid stories and anecdotes.
At a couple of hours Donbass is a long sit and it took me a while to get into it. I found some of the vignettes more interesting than others. Mind you, I also became more and more horrified, which was the whole point. How can society disintegrate to the point where lawlessness becomes the norm?
Donbass is a small audience film with the ability to shock.
Director: Sergey Loznitsa
Cast: Valeriu Andriuta, Irina Plesnyaeva, Evgeny Chistyakov, Georgiy Deliev
Release Date: 18 October 2018
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television