The admonishing words of jury president Vincent Lindon that a film festival these days has to compete with (and relate to) the images from a real war still echo through the first week, when the Ukraine war reached cinema on the screen.
Only a few days before the start of the festival, the documentary film “Mariupolis 2” by the Lithuanian director – and self-declared “field researcher” – Mantas Kvedaravičius was nominated for the official selection. It is his fourth and last film. Kvedaravicius was allegedly shot dead by Russian soldiers during filming in the Ukrainian port city in early April.
“Mariupolis 2”, completed by his Ukrainian partner Hanna Bilobrova, will be presented in Cannes both as a requiem for the filmmaker who died at the age of 45 and as a kind of cinematic message in a bottle from a besieged city. Tuesday night, a squadron of airmen thundered over the city as the welcoming committee for Tom Cruise; Kvedaravičius’ images are accompanied by the incessant thunder of Russian artillery shells. Lindon is correct in implying that cinema cannot compete with these recordings. But “Mariupolis 2” also shows that this handicap can be a strength.
Where the news images from the devastated Ukraine have long been ubiquitous, cinema manages to give the war a historical perspective by reacting as quickly as in the case of “Mariupolis 2”. (And no event is able to historicize the present as quickly as war.)
Kvedaravičius may not have intended it that way. No one can say with certainty what his final version might have looked like, even if his first Mariupol film from 2016 allows conclusions to be drawn. But the fragmentary state in which Bilobrova left “Mariupolis 2” – without music, without history, without dramaturgy – is an impressive, harrowing document of human resilience under unimaginable conditions.
Kvedaravičius returned to Mariupol for filming in March, when the city was already in ruins. A group of people have gathered around a church that offers shelter to refugees.
The director films them, mostly men, talking or dragging corpses out of a ruin to retrieve a power generator. War has no morals, even for the survivors.
But Kvedaravičius does not want to tell any “fate”, rather he describes the human condition in the post-apocalypse: the houses have been leveled to the ground, the streets are deserted, a man mourns the loss of his wife, but he speaks from the darkness of his hiding place. Only one voice can be heard.
These cinema pictures are less than two months old, still highly topical and already historical. After the film, back in daylight, the sun burns all the more glaringly into the darkness of our present.