Truth is a fickle concept at the best of times, but during a war sponsored by one of the world’s greatest purveyors of Fake News, the very notions of facts and rationality go flying out the window. This is the world that Sergey Loznitsa’s Donbass inhabits, covering a wide expanse of east Ukraine as its people deal with Russian occupation and start to pick sides.
There’s no plot to speak of, merely Loznitsa covering the sad story of just how royally screwed the people of Donbass are. Told through 13 separate vignettes, most of which are done in incredibly well-choreographed unbroken takes, the actual military action takes up only a tiny portion of these chapters. Sure, there are soldiers everywhere, but we see their effect on civilian life, not any firefights.
Some scenes, like a chaotic wedding for seemingly the worst couple in Ukraine, are funny and unnerving in equal measure, the hideous uncertainty of life in a war zone wafting off the screen in nauseous waves. Chaos reigns and the discomfort of this state of affairs is starkly rendered. Other snippets, though, have far less of an impact, the final scene in particular dragging on and on and on. A static crane shot where you can barely hear the dialogue, it’s a patience-tester.
Each vignette is skilfully stitched to the scenes that bookend it. Some change over in the same shot, Loznitsa panning over to someone new in the crowd and following them elsewhere, and some are more conventionally edited – but all fit the tone and rhythm well.
Yet, despite its political bite, there’s an emptiness to Donbass. It comes with the vignette territory, with very few named characters and no one as an emotional anchor. It’s a fascinating film in the moment, but it won’t stick with you for long.
CAST: Valeriu Andriutã, Natalya Buzko, Evgeny Chistyakov
DIRECTOR: Sergey Loznitsa
WRITER: Sergey Loznitsa
SYNOPSIS: In eastern Ukraine, society begins to degrade as the effects of propaganda and manipulation begin to surface in this post-truth era.