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Reflection (Vidblysk)

Director - Valentyn Vasyanovych - 2021

"Dirty gem"
Ukrainian drama about surgeon captured by the Russian military is a profound meditation on war, fate and belief - live from the 78th Biennale


At the beginning of the Russian Ukrainian conflict in 2014, a surgeon Serihy (Roman Lutskyi) leads a comfortable if somewhat bored existence. He has a daughter Polina (Nika Myslytska) by Olha (Nadia Levchenko) a woman who is now in a happy relationship with Andriy (Andriy Rymaruk). When he isn’t trying to save the lives of casualties of the war, he is repairing old vinyl records in his grey high rise flat. Whether its a sense of patriotic duty, or a feeling of competition with Andriy, who has already volunteered, or humanitarian concerns – he could save more wounded if he was actually on site, or just boredom is unclear. Whatever the reason, he volunteers, but things go catastrophically wrong and he is captured and subjected to brutal torture.

The whole film consists of 29 mostly static shots. Each scene develops in front of the camera with no movement, or music. As such the films as knowingly artificial as a Roy Anderson film,but Roy Anderson shooting Hostel. The first few shots posit frames within frames: windows, windscreens, a protecting screen separating parents from a paintball battle. There is always a sense of separation not only between us and the world being portrayed but between the characters within that world.

We witness an operation through the window of the operating theatre. Father and daughter watch a film at a drive in, their windscreen wipers vainly batting at the pouring rain. Another windscreen will be broken as Serihy’s truck runs into an ambush and he is taken prisoner. The artifice is broken and the camera finally moves, but it takes us to places we don’t want to go. Down, down, down into a cellar where unspeakable acts are perpetrated, but even here there is an aesthetics, certainly of pain, degradation, and stomach turning violence, but an aesthetic nonetheless. Maybe those screens and that separation were in reality a good thing. Allowing us a certain level of safety, an immunity.

Valentyn Vasyanovych is the director, writer and cinematographer. His Atlantis won the Orizzonti sidebar in Venice in 2019. In it he created a view of the post-war future. With Reflection he is looking at the past, the origin of the war and has created a profound meditation on fate and belief. You can’t go to the part of the world where torture happens without possibility of relief without confronting what you would do in such a situation: your humanity entirely denied; no hope that persuasion or negotiation would free your, let alone any sense of humanitarian relief. In fact, the furnace where the bodies are reduced to ash are housed in a truck with the bitterly ironic legend ‘Humanitarian Aid from the Russian Federation’. So do we turn to god? Do we rely on some sense of the afterlife where such structural defects of human existence such as injustice could be rectified?

Returning from the war, a shell of himself with guilty secrets, survivor’s shame and PTSD carved deeply into his being, Serihy tries to rebuild his life. It is not going to be easy; perhaps not even possible. With Polina, he talks of souls, Buddhism, Christianity. He tries to spoil her, to replace Andriy who is not coming back. In a beautiful image a smear on a window, could be his soul hovering above him. But it could also just be a smear.

Reflection has just premiered at the 78th Venice International Film Festival:

"Dirty gem"

By John Bleasdale - 08-09-2021

By John Bleasdale - 08-09-2021

John Bleasdale is a film critic and writer based in Italy. He has published a novel entitled Blood is on the Grass and a book of short stories as well as a number of articles and features. His work ha...

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