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VENICE 2015 Out of competition

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Winter on Fire: Chronicle of a moral victory foretold


- VENICE 2015: Evgeny Afineevsky has world-premiered a highly detailed and militant documentary on the 93 days of the Euromaidan, seen from inside the barricades

Winter on Fire: Chronicle of a moral victory foretold

The third feature-length documentary by Russian-Israeli director Evgeny Afineevsky, entitled Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight For Freedom [+see also:
film profile
and presented out of competition at the Venice Film Festival, is a chronicle told from within the citizens’ revolt against Viktor Yanukovich’s government. Here, the personal and artistic style of Maidan [+see also:
film profile
by Sergei Loznitsa gives way to a more direct and journalistic approach, in which almost 30 cameras captured all that the demonstrators experienced during the 93 days of the uprising. The striking material that was gathered is presented in chronological order, apart from the flash-forward that the film kicks off with, and features a very dynamic style of editing that includes interviews, recent archive footage, and the mapping out of demonstrations and confrontations.

The narrative, therefore, clearly corresponds to what you might expect from a Netflix production (it was co-produced by such outfits as the British firm Passion Pictures): the non-violent, pro-European protest that spiralled into an open conflict between the citizens of Kiev and government forces (and their mercenaries) in winter 2013 and 2014 appears on screen, narrated in a harsh but agile fashion for the enjoyment of a western mainstream audience – an audience that the movie will undoubtedly manage to reach, given the additional support provided to it by its world premiere out of competition at the Venice Film Festival, before it heads off to Telluride and Toronto. However, it is in its decision to opt for triumphant partisanship that Winter on Fire finds its Achilles heel.

Indeed, the movie offers a sole point of view: that of the people who protested in favour of the country’s entry into the European Union and who ended up fighting to the death in order to topple a corrupt president. As defensible as this stance may be, the screenplay lectures us from a sentimental angle (one particularly inappropriate decision was to exploit the testimony of a defenceless 12-year-old boy who took part in the protest and the fighting), and the viewer cannot help but notice the lack of an informative counterpoint that might explain, with a greater degree of authenticity, the origins and development of a conflict that was much more complex than the one we see on screen. The final mention of the subsequent incidents in Crimea (so pro-Russian Ukrainians do exist, then?) clearly calls into question the truthfulness of this account and thus undermines its moralistic discourse.

(Translated from Spanish)

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