Let me describe a scene that demonstrates the mastery of Yuri Khashchavatski as a filmmaker who knows how to bring forward this simple message: there is a dictatorship in Europe, a nation called Belarus, governed through a systematically consistent spreading of fear among those who are opposed to a regime that suppresses all human rights; a nation where elections are manipulated and where opponents of President Lukashenko are jailed or just disappearhe scene shows a boy being asked where his father is. “I don’t know,” the boy says with a photo of his father held to his chest. The camera remains focussed on his face as he starts to cry and seeks refuge behind his mother who is also holding a photo on the square where their manifestation takes place. Cut to the next scene, the same square, the same mother and child, several years later. The mother is attacked by one of the soldiers. Nothing has changed: the boy’s father, Dimitri Zavadski, is still missing.
There are many ways to make a political statement and there have been several films about Lukashenko and Belarus. Most have been journalistic, giving us the necessary information and all the scandals. Khashchavatski does something different. He uses satire and cinematic idioms to give us a docu-comedy of sorts; we laugh because this is just too much, it can’t be true, but it “is”.
You see the battle between the demonstrators and the hard-hitting gorillas sent by the government. You see and hear a young girl report what she saw and experienced on the square where a tent city was built in the freezing cold weather. There are sequences from the parliament where Lukashenko frowningly observes his main opponent, Milinkevich. There is a visit to a provincial town where nothing works and disillusion reigns but where Lukashenko is still the candidate they will vote for. Newspapers with different opinions are closed. We see young people being arrested, and their parents standing in front of the prison protesting.
A decade ago the director was beaten up for making “An Ordinary President”, so it takes courage to come back with another strong and important film, an eye-opener in a powerful but also passionate and patriotic tone. The film will, of course, have no official screenings in Belarus, making it all the more important to screen it at festivals and broadcast it on every decent TV station.