Review: Mariupolis 2

Because of their nature as recordings of real events, documentaries often come with their own dramatic context, and in the case of Lithuanian filmmaker Mantas Kvedaravicius’s sequel to his 2016 film about the titular Ukrainian port city, much has been made about his return to Mariupol shortly after the Russian invasion in February 2022. Mariupol 2, which chronicles only 7 days in an area about the size of a few city blocks, doesn’t provide any background or incisive commentary about the reason for the invasion. It simply records how one group of people cope with the constant bombardment. But once you understand that Kvedaravicius was captured by Russian troops right after this footage was shot and then summarily executed, the movie becomes something else. As it happened, Kvedaravicius’s partner, Hanna Bilobrova, and his editor quickly cut the footage and had it ready to be shown at Cannes less than two months later. Whether such a film, hastily thrown together without narration or contextual information, constitutes a valuable document is up for debate, but at the time it premiered it stood outside any critical consideration.

Mariupolis was a love song to a city. Mariupolis 2 complements it by showing how the city is gradually being destroyed, and for the most part Kvedaravicius keeps shooting from the same vantage points to show how buildings and skylines are changing in the course of his week there. The center of the action is a Baptist church where neighbors have fled for sanctuary, sleeping in close quarters in the basement and cooking large pots of soup using whatever materials they can scrounge up. Smoke is pervasive and the sound of artillery, both distant and close-range, is constant. The only violence is suggested. Two men enter a bombed out residence to retrieve a generator, stepping over two dead bodies in the process. Conversations are necessarily incomplete, and while some do address the politics of the war—one man insists that things were better when the Soviets ruled the city, though he says it out of earshot of others—there’s never a feeling of taking sides. Mariupol has a sizable ethnic Russian population.

As the director carefully moves away from the church, he catches more scenes of destruction. This particular area contains a lot of small industry, and the resignation of the factory managers and employees who sift through the rubble is particularly chilling, because the war, after all, has just begun. Watching these men try and make sense of what is happening around them becomes all the more disconcerting at one year’s remove. How many are dead? How many were captured? We know Kvedaravicius is gone. Though Mariupolis 2 has little meaning without a more elaborate explanation of the war, until the war actually ends its power to affect will remain potent. 

In Russian. Now playing in Tokyo at Theater Image Forum Aoyama (03-5766-0114).

Mariupolis 2 home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2022 Extimacy Films, Easy Riders Films, Twenty Twenty Vision

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