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Review: We Will Not Fade Away


- Alisa Kovalenko’s latest documentary is a highly emotional journey following a few young Ukrainians before their lives get turned upside down

Review: We Will Not Fade Away

After its premiere at the Berlinale earlier this year and its screening in the Gex Doc strand of this year’s Giffoni Film Festival, Alisa Kovalenko’s new coming-of-age documentary, titled We Will Not Fade Away [+see also:
film profile
, sadly gains prominence owing to the tragic events unfolding in Ukraine.

Predominantly set in the Luhansk region, the film covers about three years in the life of a group of five teenagers – Andriy, Liza, Lera, Ruslan and Illia – coming to a close only some time before the beginning of Russia’s full scale invasion of the country in February 2022. Throughout, we sense that the prospect of a new Russian invasion is in the air, and the sound of gunfire, from time to time, reminds us that the threat is impending.

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Nonetheless, the five young Ukrainians decide to live their lives to the fullest, chasing dreams and aspirations like anyone else their age – for example, they fantasise about acting careers, becoming successful tycoons or painters, seeing the world, being free and living some adventures. Kovalenko brings us on a highly emotional journey that kicks off at a rather slow pace. From the beginning, and for about two thirds of the picture, we may feel that we are only observers, peeking at their existence and provided with a good snapshot of how hard it is – or rather, how hard it used to be – for teens living in the frontline.

But this would make Kovalenko’s documentary little more than an interesting observational study, featuring several compelling protagonists. With patience, the viewer eventually finds much more to experience. The main turning point – which perhaps arrives a little too late, though it does surprise us – is the prospect for the five of them to join an incredible trip to the Himalayas. Their dream expedition will come true thanks to the efforts of Valentin Sherbachov, a Ukrainian adventurer.

All in all, the choice to always keep the war in the background is effective and rewarding: by doing so, we can focus on our protagonists, and on what they say and feel about their future. In one scene, for example, one of the boys tells his brother that the village they live in and the city nearby will probably be gone in 50 years. It gives us, in a small way, an idea of the feeling of doom these young people had to live with – tragically, the boy’s nightmare became a reality much earlier than expected.

Aesthetically speaking, the picture benefits from two strong points. The first is its stunning cinematography, lensed by Kovalenko herself and Serhiy Stetsenko. Its striking beauty is plain to see especially in the night shots filmed before the guys reach the Annapurna Camp Base, and those showing them watching the sunrise after they are done climbing. The second element worth praising is the soundtrack, made up of songs by little known but talented artists such as Wojciech Frycz, as well as those by more popular acts like Blink-182 and Radiohead.

Lastly, the ending sequence of Kovalenko’s feature is one of the most beautiful and touching in years. Through some masterful editing touches and the juxtaposition of a highly emotional song, we find out the destiny of each of the five protagonists. We also stop and think: what if that young boy or girl was me?

We Will Not Fade Away was produced by Ukraine’s Trueman Production, and co-produced by Haka Films (Poland), East Road Films (France), ARTE G.E.I.E. - La Lucarne (France), Telewizja Polska S.A. (Poland) and Current Time TV (USA).

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