CONFLICT: Through their collective artistic project, a single mother and her four children cope with life inside a war zone.
Lauren Wissot
Lauren Wissot is a US film critic and journalist, filmmaker and programmer, and a contributing editor at both
Published date: February 20, 2020

Winner of the World Cinema Documentary Directing Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Iryna Tsilyk’s The Earth Is Blue as an Orange is an unusual addition to the recent slew of nonfiction films portraying everyday life in war zones. This particular frontline is the «red zone» of eastern Ukraine, a place where a young boy can look straight into (Kyiv native) Tsilyk’s lens and explain how one can tell, just by the sound, if a shell is heading towards you, or moving away.

Cinema vérité

Or, is it really his big sister’s lens? What makes Tsilyk’s film so unexpected is that it is also a meta meditation on the healing power of cinema itself. The family at the heart of Tsilyk’s story (not incidentally, the filmmaker is also a celebrated author) are bound together by a shared project: an attempt to create a narrative work based on their own wartime experiences. Headed by eldest sibling Mira, whose sole life dream is to become a cinematographer, and aided by her single mom Anna, two brothers, and sister, the quartet craft sequences that Mira then directs and films – which Tsilyk, in turn, captures cinema vérité style.

Interestingly, Tsilyk’s most powerful scenes involve the unspoken, the ones in which the war in Donbass hovers like a ghost offscreen. In addition to her many elegant establishing shots, Tsilyk composes a beautifully framed image of Mira and a friend dressed to the nines on graduation day – happily posed in front of a disintegrating building battle-scarred with scaffolding. When Mira and her mom travel across the country to Kyiv so she can apply for a film school scholarship, their faces reveal more than merely a longing for higher education. For Mira, it’s a chance at a life.

The Earth Is Blue as an Orange-MTR-post
The Earth Is Blue as an Orange, a film by Iryna Tsilyk.

The act of creation

And yet, the …

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