The main character of Serhii Loznytsia’s Maidan appears in the first scene: this is people who are singing the anthem. Later this scene, a sea of faces looking into the camera, will repeat itself many times with different variations.
Serhii Loznytsia was born in Belarus. He has lived for over 25 years in Kyiv. Having become famous as a documentarian, he made a successful debut with a feature film, shot in co-production with Ukraine, My Joy (2010), which, despite not winning any prizes in Cannes, received laudations of the international cinema critics.
In a sense, Maidan emerged quite accidentally: the director came in winter to Kyiv with an aim to prepare for shooting of the historical drama about Babyn Yar, and his attention was surely switched to the revolution events. The two-hour documentary (the authors define its genre as a documentary epos) was made almost without any funding, with one cameraman: Serhii “Stefan” Stetsenko shot more than 100 hours of material.
This is a story of Maidan in both meanings, as a place and as a community. As it is not a chronicle or an opinion journalism work, the reproaches that the film does not show some or other events have no sense. However, it does apply the elements of report: for example, there is no overlapping music; the music and the noises were recorded in real time, which reinforces the trustworthiness of the picture. Maidan is above all a fiction visual text (by the way, it is high time to get rid of the division into fiction and documentary) with a system of images of its own, and it is very interesting to observe the flow of these images.
The first hour of Loznytsia’s film is focused on the description of the situation. The general and middle-distance scenes interchange; almost nothing is going on in the lengthy static episodes shot by a fixed camera: people are flowing through the scene, involved in their everyday’s routine. Sometimes quite interesting portraits appear in such a way: a girl is pouring the Volhynian tea, while ribbons are being plaited into her hair; an amateur poet near a microphone forgets his own verse; a colorful man plays the Ukrainian Anthem on the guitar. Passionate speeches and calls of the leaders from the stage are on the margins, whereas the most important thing is this precious routine, in which you plunge like into a meditation owing to the immovability of the camera. The kitchen in the House of Trade Unions, the KMDA, the barricades in Khreshchatyk, dozens of faces, hundreds of gestures: we see almost a Brownian movement, a chaos on the eve of the act of creation, an element which does not have a form that would be able to accept it.
So, the first part of the film is living through the civic protest as a space. Maidan as a place.
A movement in time, actually the plot, begins after the caption about the start of the events in Hrushevsky Street on January 19. By one exception, Stetsenko’s camera continues to be immovable. However, this time the people’s crowd enters the scene of history with its heavy dance, being at the same time a choir and the protagonist of the tragedy that is unfolding here and now.
Although there is fire, blows and shots can be heard, Loznytsia avoids showing direct collisions. The police are hidden behind the helmets and the shields and stand in the shadow like an amorphous impersonal aggregate. By the way, in the shootings of attacks there are unique scenes which have never been shown in any publicized chronicle: for example, a Berkut riot policeman on a roof, hit by a bullet, or the beginning of the slaughter in Instytutska Street on February 20, when the notorious troop of the policemen was shooting from automatic guns at the activists and throwing stones while doing so (!) – this is wonderful moment that conveys the depth of panic, animal fear of those who felt as masters of other people’s lives for so long.
What Loznytsia shows in the episodes of clashes is a melting pot in which the nation is created, not an ethnos, but a responsible community, the political nation which is the stronghold of present-day civilization. From one scene to another, from the choir that sings the anthem to sorrowful faces at the funeral of the victims of shootings – this amazing, grandiose transformation is recorded with all exactness and honest the talented artist is capable of. Loznytsia allows the mourning song “A Duck Swims On” to be heard twice, decreasing the pathos of the episode, instead again peeping into the people: they are absolutely different, compared to the beginning of the film. On the whole, the entire funeral scene, with its deep shadow-light, the lanterns in people’s hands, has simply a Rembrandt scale and depth.
And very quiet ending with candles lit along the Maidan, with crystal bells that continue to ring when the ending credits start to run, are more moving than a possible heart-rending final could be. Catharsis on the quiet.
Every people has its own film about the birth of the nation. In the US great D.W. Griffith shot The Birth of Nation; Germany experienced its birth on screen in The Nibelungs by Fritz Lang.
Loznytsia has managed if not to create a film of this kind, then to make a huge step in a needed direction. The people of Ukraine, probably for the first time in its history, saw itself on the screen.
And this face is beautiful and full of dignity.