Coupled with an uncompromisingly bloated running time, Sergei Loznitsa’s sedate style of shooting renders this potentially remarkable account of civil unrest quite the opposite.
Cinematic Unrestby Dave O'Flanagan
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
After In The Fog, Sergei Loznitsa’s latest film is a chronicle of the civil unrest against the regime of president Yanukovych in Kiev in the winter of 2013/2014. Chronicle is the operative word here because while Loznitsa’s film will be an important account and record of the unrest in years to come. While the topic couldn’t be more compelling or relevant, it’s in the delivery of the story that the film founders. Often fixing on one vista with a static shot lasting up to 5 minutes at a time, Loznitsa’s focus is at first intriguing, but quickly becomes testing and ultimately boring. The film captures an almost dystopian present in Ukraine, and couldn’t have come at a more relevant juncture in the country’s history – it just doesn’t make for very good cinema.
Capturing the events in Kiev’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti (“Independence Square”) over the course of ninety crucial days – from late 2013, when citizens gathered to demonstrate against pro-Russian President Ianoukovitch’s regime, to March 2014, when the protest became an insurrection.
After an hour of political rhetoric, poetry, food preparation and the Ukrainian National Anthem sung in shot ad nauseam, an initially interesting and unique snapshot of Ukrainian civil unrest begins to wear thin. It’s an uncompromising structure for a documentary that insists on exposing the gears of unrest turning ever so slowly in the days, weeks and months of rioting in Ukraine’s capital. Loznitsa’s film eschews talking heads providing the audience with scant information apart from indicating from time to time the period stage of the conflict on screen. Utilising static master shots of everything that happens in-frame for such prolonged periods of time is certainly unique, but its attempt to make you feel like one of the number of disenfranchised Ukrainians never truly succeeds.
What Loznitsa’s film does capture quite effectively is the perceived physical manifestation amongst the people of President Ianoukovitch’s overbearing reign. They talk of his grip on the nation in such visceral terms – his presence in power appears to be felt by millions. For instance, when speaking about the effect he has on the country they speak of his “breaking the spine” of Ukraine adding that he “drinks the blood of the people”.
The languid style of shooting makes the bulky running time of 130 minutes feel like an eternity. Several scenes of hundreds of people singing the Ukrainian National anthem or chanting political rhetoric gets so exhausting that there is a terribly guilty release when the situation escalates. And when it does, with the police introducing live ammunition, it truly is terrifying to witness the pandemonium on the streets of Kiev. With the escalation, Loznitsa’s cameras move to the roof and it’s here, however short-lived, that the film is at its most fascinating. Maidan would have benefitted from a tighter edit (perhaps cutting up to an hour off the running time) – there’s even an argument to be made for using the footage as part of an exhibition on the subject – but as it stands, it’s regrettably disengaging.
Maidan is released on 20th February 2015 in the UK