Ukrainian documentarian and writer/director Sergei Loznitsa takes a sprawling dark comedy, with a vast ensemble cast, to evoke purposely manufactured social breakdown in the Donbass region of his homeland.
The conflict in eastern Ukraine is evoked as an anarchic and deeply cynical horror show in Ukrainian writer/director Sergei Loznitsa’s potent dramatised report from the theatre of war.
“Donbass abandons allegory [see A Gentle Creature, NZIFF17] for a bracing commitment to the present in a film that has such topical urgency one wonders why (or whether) it is fiction at all. Its story is a daisy-chain loosely connecting anecdotes of corruption, coercion, fear, and cynicism in the Donbass region of the country, which is currently occupied by the pro-Russian separatists who have proclaimed the Donetsk People's Republic. Opening with a scene of actors preparing to film what we soon shockingly learn is a fake news report of Ukrainian nationalist terrorism, and going on from there… Donbass is a grave, sometimes blackly, absurdly comic transmission from a region roiling in intimate bloodshed and hatred…
Just how much of the basis of this conflict is fictive, Donbass asks, not just in details of fake news but in a greater sense of people playing roles to obtain and maintain power? This suggestion, and the film itself, comes as if from the front lines, which creates an ambivalent contradiction between Loznitsa’s bracingly of-the-moment ‘reporting’ and his film’s tone of resigned weariness. A film at once electric and morose, Donbass serves as a guide to the malignant darkness shrouding over the eastern part of the Ukraine: fiction filmmaking with combative intent and a powerful sense of necessity.
This is the kind of film this festival [Cannes] should embrace, one which attacks the distress of the present with a virtuosic anger and desire to communicate experience.” — Daniel Kasman, Mubi.com