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Review: Boney Piles


- Taras Tomenko takes us on a contemplative journey through the remnants of a war-torn country, bringing its future generations into focus

Review: Boney Piles

Originally premiered in the Generation Kplus section of this year’s Berlinale, just a couple of weeks before the outbreak of the current war in Ukraine, Taras Tomenko’s second feature-length documentary, Boney Piles [+see also:
interview: Taras Tomenko
film profile
, is an ominously timely chronicle of the devastation wreaked on the country’s territory by the armed conflict that has been ongoing there since 2014. Although obviously filmed before 24 February this year, it is still strikingly relevant to today’s tragic situation, hence logically, the international and FIPRESCI juries at the goEast Film Festival have just unanimously named it Best Documentary in the competition (see the news).

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Probably the strongest feature of the film is that it is simultaneously topical and timeless, specific and universal. It was shot in Eastern Ukraine, part of which had already been destroyed before this year’s renewed violence, but the images are eternally relevant: they alarmingly converge with current media reports from the war, while at the same time, the desolation they depict could apply to any war in the world. The perpetrators are not named or pointed out; only the consequences and the sufferers are, the most deeply scarred among whom happen to be children.

The camera closely but unobtrusively follows a group of children who wander around the remnants of their former home and life. Trying to make money by singing Christmas carols to the barely interested surviving inhabitants of the area while their parents earn some cash from grave-digging, most of the time, they hang around semi-habitable, run-down buildings or their ruins, graveyards, railway tracks and unmown meadows. They keep themselves entertained by flying a kite in a blackened, scorched field, and their toys are leftovers from anonymous lives, salvaged from the piles of rubbish that seem to have taken over. One of the few still-functional structures in their unstructured lives is the school, where patriotic songs blare from the loudspeakers, promising safety and a future, as they feel nostalgic about their cosy living room, as it had been before the chaos. Another such place is the Orthodox church, where they go to light candles: its rhetoric on eternal life may offer some hope for the realisation of their youthful hopes and dreams, but not a solution. Imperceptibly, some are already on the verge of maturity, having to cross the threshold to adulthood in this turbulent environment where future prospects of peace and life itself are hazy.

The title contributes to our interpretation of the film, thanks to its double meaning – the combination of the words “boney piles” refers to the waste material removed during mining, hinting at the aforementioned left-over remnants of former lives, while the literal translation of each word creates an association with the piling up of bones from lives lost, which the survivors are forced to co-exist with. Also, when destruction occurs and becomes dominant among humans and their inventions, nature takes over in parallel. Hence, the film takes place to a large extent within vast, empty areas, a landscape that suggests starting from scratch. The generous number of viewpoints we are offered by Misha Lubarsky’s cinematography sum up the sadness of the scenery in both daytime and nighttime, while also suggesting a longing for an uncertain future.

Boney Piles was produced by Ukraine’s InsightMedia.

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