You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Maidan’

Sergei Loznitsa's rigorous film is one of the few documentaries about a recent revolution that won't feel dated in five years.

(Ukrainian dialogue)

In contrast with most documentaries made in the wake of an historic event, “Maidan” will last beyond the current Ukrainian upheaval to stand as compelling witness and a model response to a seminal moment too fresh to be fully processed. Going back to his nonfiction roots, Kiev-raised helmer Sergei Loznitsa uses almost exclusively fixed master shots filmed from December 2013 to February 2014, capturing in an emotionally gripping, minimalist way the protest’s trajectory from euphoric to besieged. Beyond the film’s immediacy, “Maidan” is an impressive, bold treatment of a complex subject via rigidly formalist means, and should see widespread fest rotation with possible limited Euro arthouse play.

Kiev’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti, translating to Independence Square, has been the focal point of Ukraine’s revolution, with the word “maidan” becoming shorthand for the movement that toppled pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych. The protests that began in December, following Yanukovych’s unpopular rejection of closer EU ties, began peacefully, as crowds in the square demonstrated their solidarity with patriotic songs, hyperbolic poems, speeches and the martial sentiments of the national anthem. Loznitsa and cameramen Serhiy Stefan Stetsenko and Mykhailo Yelchev stationed themselves in strategic spots just beyond the square’s periphery, capturing sounds from the stage but focusing on the quasi-festive atmosphere of regular people coming and going.

Protesters camp out in a school, volunteers ferry food and drink to the crowds, and a sense of commonality appears to link the participants, many of whom at this early stage are gray-haired men and women who must have marched in countless workers’ parades during Soviet times. Signaling the crowd’s refusal to budge are barricades of wooden pallets, spikes and detritus that make the area look like a lithograph of the July Revolution of 1830, although this was before the violence began. Instead, throngs sing new lyrics to the classic Italian partisan song “Bella ciao,” urging Yanukovych to go with the refrain “Ciao Vitya ciao.”

The atmosphere changes drastically after Jan. 19 and the introduction of repressive anti-protest laws. Suddenly announcements from the stage request that women leave the front lines, and gas masks appear. Skirmishes break out between demonstrators and cops, the former pelting police in almost balletic waves as they rhythmically run forward, toss rocks and fall back. It could almost be a staging of “Andrea Chenier.”

The one time the camera moves is when a press area is targeted by tear gas, and the previously static image suddenly veers off as the cameraman seeks safety in another section. Tensions escalate as a water cannon is introduced, and then live ammo. Loznitsa moves the perspective to an upper-floor vantage point, allowing him to take in smoke, flames and smoldering refuse from the day after. One month later an uneasy standoff crumbles when protesters march to Parliament: From an upper window, the camera records billowing black smoke in the distance while a woman at the lower right corner of the screen runs towards the unseen conflagration, her hair waving with each stride in one of many small details whose accumulation conveys a sense of dynamic urgency.

Shortly after, activists pry up cobblestones to use as projectiles; a grandmother type in a babushka harangues a younger woman, their voices drowned out by the general tumult. Someone blocks the view and the camera’s inflexibility is suddenly felt, yet there’s never the frustration of stymied involvement: Loznitsa’s fixed positions immerse audiences in the commotion, making us eyewitnesses to the shifting tensions and providing a chilling immediacy often lacking in common reportage (superb sound editing also helps). When announcements from the stage exhort doctors and medics to make themselves known, there’s no need to actually see the speaker, since the importance lies in the myriad sensations that build within each shot.

Anyone familiar with Loznitsa’s previous work (“Landscape,” “My Joy,” “In the Fog”) won’t be surprised by the director’s rigor. Aside from a few basic intertitles summing up events, “Maidan” dispenses with classic docu-style chronicling. Rejecting the usual focus on particular players, or the interpolation of news and activist footage common in movies from the Arab Spring, Loznitsa creates a film that refuses to interpret (although editing is a form of interpretation), and is one of the few documentaries about recent revolutions that won’t feel dated in five years.

Towards the end, chants of “Glory to the Heroes!” build and build, and then give way to the sounds of a chorus singing the traditional folk song “Plyve kacha po tysyni,” an achingly moving lament about a soldier afraid of dying on foreign soil. There’s an undeniable, defiant note of patriotism to this finale, one that may sit uncomfortably with auds wary of nationalist sentiment, but it feels true to the Ukrainians, still struggling to reinforce their beleaguered self-determination.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Maidan'

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Special Screenings), May 21, 2014. Running time: 133 MIN.  

Production: (Documentary — Netherlands) An Atoms & Void production. (International sales: Atoms & Void, the Hague.) Produced by Sergei Loznitsa, Maria Choustova-Baker.

Crew: Directed, written by Sergei Loznitsa. Camera (color, HD), Serhiy Stefan Stetsenko, Loznitsa, Mykhailo Yelchev; editors, Loznitsa, Danielius Kokanauskis; sound, Vladimir Golovnitski, Kirill Krasovskiy, Boris Peter, line producer, Maria Choustova-Baker.

With: (Ukrainian dialogue)

More Film

  • Ivana Lombardi Netflix

    Annapurna Film Head Ivana Lombardi Named Director of Indies at Netflix (EXCLUSIVE)

    Annapurna Pictures president of film Ivana Lombardi is moving across town to Netflix, after almost a year in her role at Megan Ellison’s company. As of Nov. 6, Lombardi will serve as director of independent films at the streamer. She will report directly to Lisa Nishimura, Netflix’s vice president of independent film and documentary features. [...]

  • Zoe Kravitz 'Big Little Lies' TV

    Zoe Kravitz to Play Catwoman in 'The Batman'

    “Big Little Lies” star Zoe Kravitz has been tapped to play Catwoman, the antiheroine and sometime love interest of the Caped Crusader, in Matt Reeves’ upcoming “The Batman.” Kravitz will star opposite Robert Pattinson as Batman. Pre-production on the Warner Bros.-DC Comics pic is expected to start this summer. No official start date has been [...]

  • Hadley Robinson Amy Poehler

    'Little Women' Actress Hadley Robinson to Star in Amy Poehler's 'Moxie'

    “Utopia” and “Little Women” actress Hadley Robinson has been tapped to star in Amy Poehler’s next directorial effort “Moxie.” Lauren Tsai is also on board to co-star in the Netflix movie. “Moxie” follows a teenage girl (Robinson) from a small town who is inspired by her mother’s Riot Girl past and starts a feminist revolution [...]

  • Samara Weaving

    'G.I. Joe' Spinoff 'Snake Eyes' Adds 'Ready or Not's' Samara Weaving

    Samara Weaving will join Henry Golding in the “G.I. Joe” spinoff, “Snake Eyes.” Haruka Abe, Ursula Corbero, Iko Uwais and Andrew Koji have also boarded the Paramount, Skydance and AllSpark movie. “The Captain” director Robert Schwentke is helming and Brian Goldner is producing. Evan Spiliotopoulos, who wrote “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Huntsman: Winter’s [...]

  • The Irishman

    'The Irishman' to Screen at Hollywood's Egyptian Theatre

    Netflix’s “The Irishman,” directed by Martin Scorsese, will screen at American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood  for two weeks starting Nov. 1. The screenings, announced Monday, are part of the limited theatrical run for the 209-minute crime drama, which premiered at the New York Film Festival on Sept. 27. Netflix will begin streaming “The Irishman” on [...]

  • Critics' Choice Documentary Awards Nominations 2019

    'Biggest Little Farm' Nabs Seven Critics' Choice Documentary Awards Nominations

    “The Biggest Little Farm” leads nominees for the fourth annual Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards, with seven bids, followed by “Apollo 11” and “They Shall Not Grow Old.” “One Child Nation” received five nominations. The winners will be presented their awards at a gala, hosted by Property Brothers’ Jonathan Scott, on Nov. 10 at BRIC in [...]

  • Margot Robbie, Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron.

    Charlize Theron Could Win Second Oscar for Playing Megyn Kelly in 'Bombshell'

    Charlize Theron walked on stage before a screening of “Bombshell” at West Hollywood’s Pacific Design Center on Sunday night and announced to the crowd, “I’m about to s— myself.” The Oscar winner had good reason to be nervous. The screening of the Jay Roach-directed drama about the fall of Fox News boss Roger Ailes was [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content