You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Close Relations’

Vitaly Mansky examines the social rifts created by the Ukraine-Russia conflict via his own family in a doc that lacks some necessary context for export.

Vitaly Mansky

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5784734/

In “Close Relations,” subtitled “The Ukraine crisis, my family and I,” prominent documentary director Vitaly Mansky uses the prism of his own extended family to explore contemporary divisions in Ukrainian society over the Ukraine-Russia conflict and to question what constitutes national identity. For Mansky, whose North Korean-shot doc “Under The Sun” is currently in U.S. cinemas, this film is equally full of absurdities, albeit more personal and less strikingly visual than his previous work. Featuring his mother, a sibling, aunts, cousins, and other family connections, it is more humorously home-movie-like, and also more of a gab-fest. Festivals and broadcasters will want to join the family, although additional didactics and graphics could help Westerners unfamiliar with the area’s complicated history.

Mansky serves as both voiceover narrator and provocative on-screen presence, interpolating between branches of the family who live in Lviv, Odessa, and Sevastopol in Crimea. He even visits the separatist Donetsk region and films with what looks like a secret camera.

Mansky was born and raised during Soviet times in Lviv, a large city in western Ukraine near the Polish border. He went to study in Moscow, and was just starting his career as a director when the Soviet Union broke apart. As he relates, “I became a Russian rather than Ukrainian citizen simply because I happened to live in Moscow. At the time, it seemed the obvious choice and I didn’t lose much sleep over it. As children of the Soviet Union, we couldn’t imagine a reality in which proper borders would strictly separate the former Soviet republics.” In contrast, the vast majority of his family remained in Ukraine, and now, in the post-Maidan-uprising era, find themselves on opposite sides of barricades.

While visiting his aged mother in Lviv (and trying to persuade her to wait in a long queue to vote), he traces their family background. One grandmother was a Pole from Lithuania. When, he wonders, did Lithuanian Poles become Ukrainians? What comprises nationality? Geography? Blood? Language?

And what about the inhabitants of the Crimea who essentially went to bed Ukrainian and woke up Russian, whether they liked it or not?  Mansky examines some of the unintended consequences, such as the Sevastopol sports club that can no longer compete in the Ukrainian leagues, nor may they be part of the Russian championships, since according to UEFA rules they belong to an “annexed territory.” Mansky’s disappointed relative Maxim sighs and calls it a “transition period.” At the Sevastpol relatives’ home they also celebrate two New Year’s eves, in two languages, with different songs, because the Russian one arrives an hour earlier.

Meanwhile, in the Black Sea port of Odessa, Mansky’s sister Alona and her husband Igor fear that their eldest son will soon be conscripted. Although Putin denies it, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is still bloodily simmering, with thousands of lives lost since former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych fled the country. Speaking of Yanukovych, Mansky injects further dark humor into the film with a visit to the former president’s abandoned estate in Kiev, which proves to be as vulgarly decorated as that of any other international dictator.

Editors Peteris Kimelis and Gunta Ikere use the graphic of a timeline spanning from 2014 to 2016, along with the name of each city to help viewers keep track of Mansky’s meanderings. Although there isn’t one, a repeated graphic of the Mansky family tree would also come in handy.

While Mansky may not have been able to convince his various relatives to accept each other’s opposing views, the making of the film wound up having a major effect on his own life. As he notes in his closing narration, “I no longer live in Russia so I don’t have to consider events there my own personal tragedy.”

Film Review: 'Close Relations'

Reviewed at Karlovy Vary Film Festival (competing), July 7, 2016. Running time: 114 MIN. (Original title: “Rodnye”)

Production: (Germany-Latvia-Estonia-Ukraine) A Saxonia Entertainment, Ego Media, Vertov, Real Cinema, Baltic Film Production in co-production with 435 Films. (International sales: Deckert Distribution, Leipzig). Producers: Simone Baumann, Guntis Trekteris, Natalya Manskaya, Marianna Kaat. Co-producers: Xenia Kuleshova, Julia Sinkevych, Anna Palenchuk.

Crew: Director, writer: Vitaly Mansky. Camera (color, HD): Alexandra Ivanova. Editors: Peteris Kimelis, Gunta Ikere.

With: Vitaly Mansky

More Film

  • Steve Bannon appears in The Brink

    Sundance Film Review: Stephen K. Bannon in 'The Brink'

    Stephen K. Bannon drinks Kombucha (who knew?), the fermented tea beverage for health fanatics that tastes like…well, if they ever invented a soft drink called Germs, that’s what Kombucha tastes like. In “The Brink,” Alison Klayman’s fly-on-the-wall, rise-and-fall-and-rise-of-a-white-nationalist documentary, Bannon explains that he likes Kombucha because it gives him a lift; he drinks it for [...]

  • Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith

    Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith Dies at 78

    Walt Disney Archives founder Dave Smith, the historian who spent 40 years cataloging and preserving the company’s legacy of entertainment and innovation, died Friday in Burbank, Calif. He was 78. Smith served as Disney’s chief archivist from 1970 to 2010. He was named a Disney Legend in 2007 and served as a consultant to the [...]

  • Oscar OScars Placeholder

    Cinematographers Praise Academy Reversal: 'We Thank You for Your Show of Respect'

    Cinematographers who fought the decision to curtail four Oscar presentations have praised the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for reversing the exclusions. “We thank you for your show of respect for the hard-working members of the film community, whose dedication and exceptional talents deserve the public recognition this reversal now allows them to enjoy,” [...]

  • Peter Parker and Miles Morales in

    'Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse' Colored Outside the Lines

    The well-worn superhero genre and one of its best-known icons are unlikely vehicles for creating a visually fresh animated feature. But Sony Pictures Animation’s work on the Oscar-nominated animated feature “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” shows throwing out the rule book and letting everyone play in the creative sandbox can pay off big. “I think we [...]

  • Denis Villeneuve

    Denis Villeneuve's 'Dune' Gets November 2020 Release Date

    Warner Bros. has scheduled Legendary’s science-fiction tentpole “Dune” for a Nov. 20, 2020, release in 3D and Imax. “Aquaman” star Jason Momoa is in negotiations to join the “Dune” reboot with Timothee Chalamet, Javier Bardem, Rebecca Ferguson, Stellan Skarsgard, Dave Bautista, Josh Brolin, Oscar Isaac, and Zendaya. Production is expected to launch in the spring [...]

  • James Bond Spectre

    Bond 25 Moved Back Two Months to April 2020

    James Bond will arrive two months later than planned as MGM moved back the release date on the untitled Bond 25 movie from Feb. 14 to April 8, 2020 — a Wednesday before the start of Easter weekend. It’s the second delay for Bond 25. MGM and Eon originally announced in 2017 that the film [...]

  • Fast and Furious 8

    'Fast and Furious 9' Release Date Pushed Back Six Weeks

    Universal Pictures has shifted “Fast and Furious 9” back six weeks from April 10 to May 22, 2020 — the start of the Memorial Day weekend. It’s the second backwards shift for the title. In 2017, Universal moved the film back a year from April 19, 2019, to April 10, 2020. Both dates fall on [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content