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KARLOVY VARY 2024 Special Screenings

Antonin Peretjatko • Director of Voyage Along the War

“When I was in Ukraine before, I wasn’t that concerned with my roots, but it has changed since the war started”


- The French director discusses how he went about searching for his identity in the place where his grandfather was born

Antonin Peretjatko • Director of Voyage Along the War
(© Film Servis Karlovy Vary)

Ukraine is under fire, but French director Antonin Peretjatko still decides to go back to the place where his grandfather was born. He is chasing memories and observing the ongoing tragedy, as well as everyday life, creating a documentary that feels oddly poetic. We sat down with him to discuss Voyage Along the War [+see also:
film review
interview: Antonin Peretjatko
film profile
, a Special Screening at the Karlovy Vary IFF.

Cineuropa: The voiceover in the documentary made me think of old chronicles, shown in the cinemas before the films would come on.
Antonin Peretjatko:
Sometimes, I only show landscapes in this film, or towns. Some images needed explanation, but I also wanted this voice to feel symbolic, somehow. It helps you see these shots in a different way, and you can make sense of it all. It tells the whole story.

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It’s very literary, too. You play with words and expressions, and you compare communism to a “tacky souvenir”.
This film is special, hopefully, because I play around a lot – also with the sound and with the image. It feels like a collage at times. It’s in the same tradition of “travel movies” like Chris Marker’s or Jean-Luc Godard’s work. That’s why this voiceover seems like it’s from another era, and that’s why I used 16 mm film.

With that kind of camera, I couldn’t possibly shoot a lot. It was a risk, but during the editing, I realised it was the right choice. It also felt like painting. Godard used to say that when you shoot in HD, it’s like Ingres. When you shoot in 16 mm, it’s like Auguste Renoir. I tried to be as honest as I could be when describing what I was seeing, but I am a filmmaker, too – the camera changes things. You share your impressions and feelings. It’s not like Ingres is better than Renoir, or the other way around. They are different, and they show you different things.

Were you worried that this film could be controversial? You are talking about the ongoing war, but your feature is very poetic.
I met a girl from Ukraine the other day, and she told me she liked it. She had seen many films about the conflict, and this one, she said, showed what it’s like when war and peace co-exist – in the same country, at the same time. She found love in this film. I thought about it a lot. How could I express these strange impressions I had when I arrived there? What I was seeing online, in the news, was a destroyed country. In Lviv, it was different. The war was in the air, and everyone could feel it, but I wanted to capture the fact that life must go on. It surprised me, and that’s why I interviewed some people there. Folks still live their life as best they can, and they try to be happy. They drink.

It can be frustrating, too. Someone says: “How dare you live normally and eat your kebabs?!” You tell some absurd stories, like the one about a man who found a fortune in front of his house – except it was a costly missile.
When I met this guy from Mariupol, and I heard it was his sense of humour that saved his life, it felt important to me. I’ve made comedies in the past, and this is also how I deal with sad, difficult things. Humour can save you from some very dark situations. When I was shooting, I couldn’t help but notice all of these absurd, funny details.

Speaking of absurdity, the idea of looking for your roots in a place that’s currently under threat… It’s a bit odd. These two storylines compete for attention.
When I was thinking about going to the village where my grandfather used to live 100 years ago, I wondered how I would feel. Obviously, it has changed a lot since then. I started to meet all these people, and it was a combination of joy and sadness. It was so exciting to talk to them, but so horrible to see them leaving everything behind. And for how long? You don’t know. When I first went to Lviv, I didn’t know if I would come back with a movie. Then you meet all of these local artists and realise it’s a cultural conflict as well – they don’t want to be erased.

We have seen so much footage shot during the invasion. That was partly why I wanted to shoot on 16 mm instead – to make it feel different. I didn’t want to shoot on the frontlines, though. Soldiers do it themselves, and nobody could have done it better. When I show an actual explosion, you see it on someone’s phone. My grandfather came from Ukraine, and this conflict touched me deeply. When I was there before, on holidays, I wasn’t that concerned with my roots. But it has changed so much since the war started.

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