Kiev-based Alina Gorlova vividly remembers the first time she saw the disputed region of Donbass, in the east of Ukraine and to the southwest of Russia. “I saw this nature in black-and-white,” she says, “because there was a lot of slag heaps in these industrial landscapes.”
A graduate of the Karpenko-Kary Kyiv National University of Theater, Film and TV, Gorlova had previously made a meditative, hour-long film, “Kholodny Yar,” about the eponymous region in the heart of the Ukraine. Her first feature film, “No Obvious Signs,” looks at Post Traumatic Stress Disorder through the eyes of a female soldier trying to reintegrate into society, and the film won four awards at Ukraine’s Docudays UA International Human Rights Film Festival in 2018.
The director initially planned just to shoot a short film in the territory that became a focus of world attention in March 2014, when pro-Russian separatists began demonstrating against the new Ukrainian government that was installed following the Euromaidan Revolution. “I started to search for some protagonists,” says Gorlova. “My friend, a photographer, introduced me to Andriy Suleyman—he was first in a war in Syria, and then in another one in Ukraine, so it’s very important to understand that his two native lands were at war.”
It also fascinated the director that Suleyman had decided to be a Red Cross volunteer, rather than work an office job, “It’s like he was trapped by war, psychologically,” she says. “After meeting him, I understood that I could create one space between Donbass and Syria. The film then had to be in black-and-white because I understood that it would allow us to create rhymes between spaces.”
And not just between Syria and Ukraine. The Suleyman family is scattered across the globe, with family members in Germany, in Kurdish-Iraq. The film sees Andriy travel to all these places, for weddings, funerals and otherwise. “I think at the start when Andriy agreed he thought it would take two to three months,” says Gorlova. “After two years, he asked me, ‘When is filming going to stop?’”
The scope of the work completely changed, and it developed into the feature film, “This Rain Will Never Stop,” which won the IDFA Award for Best First Appearance on Thursday. In the film, Gorlova intersperses Andriy’s experiences with cinematic footage of humanitarian relief efforts, displays of military strength and personal celebrations of family life. It’s a cycle of war and peace that is stunningly captured by the vibrant photography of Viacheslav Tsvietkov, the DoP on Iryna Tsilyk’s “The Earth Is Blue as an Orange” and Mantas Kvedaravičius’ “Parthenon.” “Viacheslav is an old friend of mine,” says Gorlova. “I chose this dark black-and-white aesthetic, and I understood that Viacheslav would probably like it a lot, because that’s his style also. When a person likes what he or she does, it’s the best.”
Watching the film, what soon becomes apparent is that Gorlova is interested in these landscapes and war at a macro level. She doesn’t attempt to explain why these wars are happening or even who is fighting who. “I was trying to be apolitical, partly because The Red Cross is a neutral organization, and from that standpoint, I had an idea that it would be good to be neutral in this film and not to judge anyone. Not to judge Russia and not to judge the Syrian government. I wanted to explore people’s desire to protect and to die for their country, for something.”
This story is told by bouncing off Andriy’s relatively mundane character. His everyday quality is at odds with the drama that happens in his life. “He is not a hero,” says Gorlova. “Well, of course, he’s a hero because of his life story, his roots and so on, but he is a very normal person. He’s cute, but he’s a cold and shy person. I think that’s good for the film in general, because it makes you pay attention to the world around him.”