The ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine is the subject of two films at this year’s Venice Film Festival, highlighting the horror and futility of the latent – and largely forgotten – war.
The festival also features Oleh Sentsov’s “Rhino” on corruption in Ukraine in the 1990s, two years after the Ukrainian director was released from a Russian prison after being arrested for protesting against annexation of the Crimea in 2014.
“Reflection” by Ukrainian director Valentyn Vasyanovych depicts the horrific torture inflicted in secret detention centers by pro-Russian separatists in occupied Ukraine.
A documentary by Loup Bureau de France, “Trenches”, follows Ukrainian soldiers inside their tunnels as they face anxiety, monotony and unpredictable artillery attacks.
Since 2014, the Ukrainian army has been engaged in a protracted battle in the east with pro-Russian separatist fighters, a conflict that has left more than 13,000 dead.
“I was deeply touched by the fact that in modern Europe these days these cruel and utterly inhumane things can happen,” Vasyanovych told AFP on Wednesday.
The torture – which the United Nations said in July occurred daily – is “no less important than the war itself that is unfolding.”
Using dark, single-frame paintings reminiscent of chiaroscuro paintings, Vasyanovych exposes the torture inflicted on captured Ukrainian soldiers and a former prisoner’s journey to healing and salvation.
After surgeon Serhiy (Roman Lutskyi) enlisted in the war, he was soon taken prisoner. After torturing him first, his captors rely on him to tell them if other mutilated and barely recognizable victims of their torture are dead or still alive.
In a powerful scene, Ukrainian soldiers who were tortured to death are burned in a mobile incinerator inside a truck labeled “Humanitarian Aid from the Russian Federation”.
– Spies and saboteurs –
In the Office documentary shot mostly in black and white, frontline soldiers spend much of their time digging with pickaxes, carrying sandbags, waiting and worrying, all between shots. enemy trenches within sight.
The only female trench soldier – nicknamed Persephone, for the Queen of the Underworld – says her fellow soldiers, the same age as her children, “look like adults, but some of them are just children.”
“They just don’t understand that it’s not a picnic,” she says. “They are on the front lines, there is bombing, people are dying and others are seriously injured.”
The brutality of man is also a theme in the powerful period drama “Captain Volkonogov Has Escaped”, by Russian directors Natasha Merkulova and Aleksey Chupov.
Like “Reflection”, it competes for the first prize of the festival, the Lion d’Or.
A captain, played by Yuriy Borisov, escapes from the state security services in 1938 in Leningrad where he and his colleagues were accused of having killed “terrorists, spies and saboteurs”.
“You know the times we live in,” the captain’s superior told him, to justify the horrific torture used to demand a confession.
“Yes, they are innocent now, but they will be guilty later.”
© 2021 AFP