Sarajevo Film Festival 2024

Underrepresented participants of war

CONFLICT / Fleeing one war and entering into another, the grief and uncertainty of one Syrian family beg the question: what drives a person to serve a country that doesn’t always appreciate the sacrifice?

One of the unintended upsides of the far too many global conflicts of recent years has been the fueling of on-the-ground local filmmakers passionate to tell their country’s stories from their own insider’s POV. And one of the talents (specifically a 2019 Berlinale Talents) taking the lead in her native Ukraine is Alina Gorlova. Gorlova’s prior film No Obvious Signs, about a battle-scarred female vet of the ongoing war against Russian separatists on the border, blew my mind at Docudays UA 2018 (and won Gorlova and her protagonist top honors at the human rights fest). And now Gorlova has continued to prove she’ll likely be a cinematic force for years to come with This Rain Will Never Stop, world premiering at the hybrid IDFA 2020.

This Rain Will Never Stop-Alina Gorlova
This Rain Will Never Stop, a film by Alina Gorlova

Two wars and multiple worlds

This Rain Will Never Stop similarly looks at war through the lens of its underrepresented participants – in this case, a young man named Andriy, caught between two wars and multiple worlds. A volunteer with the Red Cross in Ukraine, Andriy would not be living in the nation of his mother’s birth if not for the Syrian conflict, which the family fled. Now Andriy’s Kurdish relatives are scattered across the globe, still in Syria but also in Iraq and even in Germany. He’s dedicated to piecing together the broken lives of strangers yet remains powerless in the face of his own.

In addition to Gorlova’s artistry, there’s also a question that runs throughout This Rain Will Never Stop and No Obvious Signs that makes both films so compelling: What drives a person to serve a country that doesn’t always appreciate the sacrifice? It’s a puzzle Gorlova’s camera dances around but never definitively solves. The woman warrior of No Obvious Signs has sacrificed her mental health for a nation that denies treatment to those showing «no obvious signs» of physical injury. Andriy, traveling to a snow-packed part of Ukraine to help dispense supplies to the suffering locals, is grilled by the driver about Syria. He wants to know why the Kurds seem to cause such trouble for Syria, Iraq, and Turkey, and also if he supports «the opposition.» Andriy quietly points out that «the opposition» is defined by which side one is on.

This Rain Will Never Stop-Alina Gorlova-2
This Rain Will Never Stop, a film by Alina Gorlova

Beyond control

And Gorlova brings Andriy’s stark bifurcated reality to the visceral fore through arresting b&w cinematography, and a sound design that manages to encompass everything from the horror of bomb strikes to the sweet mewing of lambs. Military parades, near fascist in tone, give way to Muslim wedding celebrations. Gorlova even follows along as the humanitarian worker has a crisis of conscience, breaks up with his Ukrainian girlfriend and decides to reconnect with his far-flung kin. Uncles, aunts, and cousins rush to embrace him, desperate for his touch, yet Andriy is unable to let himself respond with much emotion. He seems awkward and uncomfortable without a playbook, in any encounter in which he’s unprepared.

What drives a person to serve a country that doesn’t always appreciate the sacrifice?

So when death hits closest to home, he knows the motions required, but also that no amount of aid can temper the loss. Andriy, like all of us who live and die, is condemned to do the best he can, treading paths that may be well-worn but are no more easily navigable for it. Or perhaps condemned is the wrong word. Instead, the Ukrainian filmmaker in a country at war has shown that we are free to do the best we can in circumstances that will always remain beyond our control.

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

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