Observations of death and destruction: “Mariupolis 2” at the Tbilisi International Film Festival3 min read

 In Eastern Europe, Review, Reviews, War in Ukraine
Mariupolis 2 is a sombre and raw record of the siege of Mariupol. Located in Donetsk Oblast along the Sea of Azov, Mariupol was the site of a Russian siege from late February to the end of May, creating a major humanitarian crisis and the almost total destruction of the city’s infrastructure. Shot at the start of the siege in March by the Lithuanian filmmaker and anthropologist Mantas Kvedaravičius, Mariupolis 2 was originally intended as a follow-up to his 2016 documentary Mariupolis. However, after Kvedaravičius was captured and shot by Russian soldiers on 2 April, the film was completed by his Ukrainian partner Hanna Bilobrova, who is credited as co-director, and his longtime editor Dounia Sichov. Although they were able to create a clear narrative in the film, there is a quality of incompleteness streaked throughout, reminding the viewer of the director’s fate.

The film uses as its base a Christian Baptist Evangelical Church where a small number of refugees have taken shelter. Rather than focusing on these individuals and their stories, however, Kvedaravičius instead spends much of his footage on long shots of the city from above. Throughout the film, the same locations are revisited, the only changes being the time of day and the number of smoke plumes rising in the distance. Through this imagery, the audience is able to truly grasp the total destruction the war has caused to the city. Noticeably, there is no soundtrack attached to the film — only the booms of continuous shelling and the calls of birds still flying free in the air accompany these lingering shots of Mariupol, emphasising the lack of life left in the city. 

These wide shots are often followed by footage of those at the church cleaning up the debris. Over and over we see the courtyard being swept of glass and other detritus, in a never-ending Sisyphean task. It is through these everyday jobs — sweeping up rubble, making soup on an outdoor fire — that Kvedaravičius tells the human story of Mariupol. While we listen in on some of their conversations, we never get to know any as individuals, making them relatable to any audience, yet at the same time aloof. 

Yet some of the film’s most emotive scenes are based in this human aspect. In a jarring scene that comes around halfway through the film, two men discuss the best way to transport a generator back to the church while only feet away the generator’s owners lie dead. The discussion is entirely focused on how to attach wheels to the generator and whether the machine is new or not — comments about the stench of the dead only crop up here and there. Death has been completely normalised, and what’s important is finding the tools to continue one’s own survival.

While we can never know what Kvedaravičius fully intended with his film, Mariupolis 2 is a worthwhile examination of the devastation of war. Throughout the film, Kvedaravičius acts as both an impartial observer and as a participant, blurring the lines of the traditional documentary filmmaker. By hearing his voice from behind the camera, the film also acts as a personal memorial to his life. The film was well received by the audience, who, as the end titles rolled on screen, gave great applause accompanied by calls of “Glory to Ukraine!” and “Glory to the Heroes!”

The film was screened on 5 December as part of the DOCA Presents Programme at the Tbilisi International Film Festival, and was followed by a talk with the head of the Ukrainian diplomatic mission Andryi Kasyanov and Lithuanian Ambassador Andrius Kalindra. The majority of the conversation focused on holding Russia accountable for its war crimes, including the targeting of hospitals and churches as seen in Mariupol. Both speakers emphasised that a strategic defeat of Russia was needed, not just the victory of Ukraine. They also highlighted that it is vital to “break illusions” about Russia in the West, for which this film could be a useful tool. 

Featured Image: The Match Factory
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