Never really free

CONTROL: (Nominated for Oscar!) A brief, yet far-reaching, glimpse into the 2019 Hong Kong protests as demonstrations escalate into conflict.

(Translated from English by Google Gtranslate)

With a running time of around one-third of the numerous feature docs that have attempted to make sense of the escalating authoritarian developments plaguing Hong Kong in recent years, Anders Hammer’s searing short Do Not Split gets farther than most. Both precise and concise – and with breakneck-speed editing and tense techno beats that make the life and death stakes utterly visceral – the recent Oscar-shortlisted film is a deep dive inside the 2019 youth-led protests. The veteran Norwegian director weaves in and out, from the harrowing frontlines to behind the scenes, alongside the teens and twenty-somethings whose masked (often gas-masked) baby faces belie a collectively steadfast warrior spirit ready to sacrifice all for the democracy cause.

Do Not Split, a film by Anders Hammer
Do Not Split, a film by Anders Hammer

Ragtag youth

Do Not Split (its title a reference to standing together physically, and perhaps philosophically) begins with a brilliant opening sequence set in October 2019 where Hammer’s camera keeps pace with a ragtag band of youth struggling to simply locate the Bank of China. The madcap antics soon give way, however, to a swift and serious torching of said financial institution. Behind a roving lens that mirrors the asymmetrical warfare playing out on the city streets, Hammer soon becomes privy to a multitude of innovative tactics – not just the use of tear gas-shielding umbrellas (those ubiquitous images broadcast around the globe), but also to the less sensational, though equally utilitarian, such as the adoption of Telegram to warn comrades as to where cops are stationed. He captures enraged, pro-China demonstrators as they face off against the pro-democracy camp, with taunts and screams of «Remove the mask!» (once the pandemic hit, this demand, in hindsight, would appear as wrongheaded as . . .

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Lauren Wissot
A US-based film critic and journalist, filmmaker and programmer.
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