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The Hindu Explains: From Sergei Loznitsa to farmer protests

Who is Sergei Loznitsa?

December 08, 2018 08:32 pm | Updated 08:36 pm IST

Sergei Loznitsa may not have acquired a cult following among Indian cinephiles as yet, but he is one of the most prolific and feted contemporary Ukrainian filmmakers, who has a persistently political voice. Be it documentaries or feature films, his work bears a strong, provocative signature and is marked by a deep urgency in dealing with the history and people of the region he comes from.

What do his films convey?

“Every time I make a fiction film I want to come as close as possible to this borderline, this frontier between fiction and documentary,” said Loznitsa in a recent interview to Film Comment . With documentaries it’s the opposite way; it’s closest to fiction. “In every of one of my documentaries, the point is not to show the image that flows past the camera — it’s about the concept, the intellectual ideas that I want to formulate,” he said.

Just last week Loznitsa’s harrowing political film Donbass won The Golden Peacock for the best film at the 49th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) 2018. It was the inaugural film of the Un Certain Regard section (devoted to films that tell their stories in non-traditional ways) of the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year and won the prize for best director for Loznitsa. Last year, his equally harrowing Krotkaya (A Gentle Creature), inspired by a Dostoevsky short story of the same name, played in the main Palm d’Or section at Cannes.

Why are they political?

Loznitsa immigrated with his family to Germany in 2001 but, along with Leviathan and Loveless director Andrey Zvyagintsev, he is regarded as being at the “forefront of filmmakers fighting Putin’s brutal, reductive idea of Russianness;” he continues to focus ceaselessly on the turmoil in the region and within Ukraine. Upheavals that don’t seem to end. Set in Donbass in East Ukraine, the site of the war between pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian government, the film looks deep within the heart of darkness. Fragmented stories and conversations, with disconnected individuals at their core, are loosely held together to create a deliberately jagged, seemingly incoherent narrative. The connectedness and coherence seem to lie in how the beginning comes a full circle to the long, gut-wrenching climax. Donbass is a uniquely dystopian and suffocating vision of misguided people, a state peddling lies and wresting all control.

Why are they bleak?

Donbass builds on Loznitsa’s own A Gentle Creature , about a woman battling heartless bureaucracy in a Russian prison town. When her parcel to her husband, serving a sentence, is returned, a “gentle” woman goes about seeking answers. Her quest proves to be a trip to hell, peopled with gangsters, singers, police and prostitutes. Here people get locked in the prison for not committing any crime. They disappear into thin air without any answers given to the next of kin. Much as in Donbass , violence is everyday and banal and menace is omnipresent. Like Donbass it presents an irredeemable picture of gloom and doom with an equally bizarre and gut-wrenching finale.

Why did he quit science?

Born in 1964 in Belarus in the former Soviet Union, Loznitsa grew up and studied in Kiev, Ukraine. An engineering and mathematics graduate, he started his career as a scientist at the Institute of Cybernetics, specialising in artificial intelligence, working as a Japanese translator on the side. Having developed an interest in cinematography, he went on to graduate with honours in cinematography and major in movie production and direction from the Russian State Institute of Cinematography in Moscow. Loznitsa has directed 18 internationally acclaimed documentary films and has been a regular at the international film festival circuit.

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