warm by the needle and to keep you quiet

Image from the documentary Mariupolis 2 by Mantas Kvedaravicius.

The first deep thump in Mariupopolis 2 still sounds like thunder rumbling in the distance. We see a man in a semi-dark hallway. The next feature sounds a little closer. Then another blow, even harder. A dog starts barking.

This war documentary, which lives as successors in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, added at the last minute to the selection of the Cannes Film Festival, is dominated, among other things, by being forced to get used to the incessant drone of Russian missile attacks.

A smoking man, filmed up close, curls up during another attack and narrows his eyes. Another suspects an impending Russian direct hit and shouts: Get out! The cameraman hurries in. The dog runs out in the opposite direction, in a brave effort to protect his people.

The display of Mariupopolis 2 is news in Cannes. Lithuanian documentary filmmaker and anthropologist Mantas Kvedaravicius, 45, had not finished his work when he was kidnapped and murdered by Russians two months ago while trying to leave the city safely. His Ukrainian fiancée, 29-year-old Hanna Bilbrova, with whom he worked on the February documentary in Mariupol, found his body on the street two days after his disappearance. She managed to return to Lithuania and did the impossible: she edited the already shot but unfinished material into a presentable version.

There was no doubt in Cannes when they heard about Bilbrova’s plan. ‘We were determined to show this documentary,’ says festival director Thierry Frémaux before the first screening. He points to the ‘Fuck Putin’ needle he has on this festival day. Cannes is turning its back on the Russian invasion – and today even more so. “I think everyone supports this message, except Putin.” Bilbrova is also present and addresses the audience, with a broken voice. She is grateful that the festival honors her husband as the filmmaker and anthropologist he was.

The documentary shows how quickly habituation gets into everyday life in a war city. Watch a man try to loosen a car tire and ignore the shocks in the distance. How a man laughs softly after the careless thump over someone else’s frightening response. Like: you know what’s going on here, you idiot! How a conversation between two women is marked by the ultimate perspective: ‘It’s good that the sun is at least shining.’

These are images that are not included in the news because they do not show clear or unambiguous events. City maps, drawn by black smoke flags, have been kept for a long time, which outline the perspective of the bereaved. We see people sweeping glass, bound dust and pieces of wood together to make the street more or less presentable, even though the roads are hardly used anymore. In a backyard full of rubble and debris, a large pot simmers on a hastily constructed hob of loose bricks.

Politics is still a long way off – though it should be noted that not everything people say in front of the camera is subtitled. The closest is the man who laments the ‘mess’ that several governments have made of his country. Again and again a fairer policy was promised, but look where it has led them. Maybe, he suggests, Ukraine does not need a just government for a while?

Kvedaravicius’ film style does not differ from its predecessor Mariupolis from 2016, in which he outlines the lives of the inhabitants of Mariupol as pro-Russian separatists increasingly manifest themselves in the region. But people are still open-minded, in 2016. There is laughter and dancing in the theater. The difference: in this second part, almost all people have disappeared. The laggards are in survival mode. The theater is empty.

Image from the documentary Mariupolis 2 by Mantas Kvedaravicius.  Picture

Image from the documentary Mariupolis 2 by Mantas Kvedaravicius.

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