An autopsy on a lifestyle that is a living death.


Irina Plesnyayeva


The term 'impressionistic' is one that can be applied to films from time to time but it has rarely been applicable so literally as is the case with Sergei Loznitsa's Donbass. Here he turns his attention to creating a work made up of distinct sequences set in the Donbass area today and, although a character seen in one such section sometimes leads us on into the next, in effect the only overall connection lies in the fact that all of the episodes reflect life in the virtual war zone that is eastern Ukraine.


It is to be noted that the opening segment is echoed by the last in terms of location: both pieces involve actors being made up, but the outcome on these two occasions is quite different. At the outset the players move out to participate in a propaganda exercise connected to a bus bombing while at the close it leads to a long-held static shot, quite distinct from the style adopted up until then, revealing indirectly a situation that hints at even more widespread corruption. Indeed, if Donbass underlines the restricted lives and sufferings of the people, it is no less a portrait of an administration both social and military that cannot be trusted on any level.


Having adopted this unusual structure, Loznitsa inevitably gives us a work that may speak even more clearly to Ukrainians than it does to viewers in other countries. Nevertheless, enhanced as the film is by the skill with which Loznitsa blends a sense of quasi-documentary (everyone looks splendidly authentic) with his own established mastery as a filmmaker, the view of Donbass built up piece by piece, snippet by snippet, holds together.  It is also a huge asset that this film, shot in colour and 'Scope, is another of Loznitsa's features photographed by the splendid Oleg Mutu.


Having said that, it must be acknowledged that one episode, a wedding in a small town approved by the authorities, does emerge with a cartoonish parodic tone that does not fit with the rest (the couple marrying will become according to the subtitles Mr. & Mrs. Fried-Egg!). But for the rest any ironic humour is convincingly part and parcel of this dissection of a society quite lacking in integrity. Best of all is an episode in which a man whose car has been stolen discovers that its recovery by the police does not have the outcome that he is expecting: a telling blend of absurdity, irony and menace that could be described as Pinteresque, this section brings all those elements into play but leaves one with a sense of witnessing a nightmare reality. Donbass is by its very nature an offbeat work and it may not be to all tastes, but it finds Loznitsa carrying off his unusual aim in a way that will certainly not disappoint his admirers.




Cast: Boris Kamorzin, Svetlana Kolesova, Sergei Russkin,  Georgy Deliyev, Alexander Zamurayev, Valeriu Andriuta, Grigory Masliuk, Thorsten Merten, Irina Plesnyaeva, Olesya Zhurakovska.


Dir Sergei Loznitsa, Pro Heino Deckert, Screenplay Sergei Loznitsa, Ph Oleg Mutu, Pro Des Kirill Shuvalov, Ed Danielius Kokanauskis, Costumes Dorota  Roqueplo.

ma.ja. de fiction/Arthouse Traffic/JBA Production/Graniet Film/Wild at Art/Digital Cube-Eureka Entertainment.
122 mins. Germany/Ukraine/France/The Netherlands/Romania/Poland. 2018. Rel: 26 April 2019. Cert. 15.