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BERLINALE 2024 Forum

Review: The Editorial Office

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- BERLINALE 2024: Returning to the deep south of his native Ukraine, Roman Bondarchuk creates a smart, often outlandish but carefully observed reflection on the local media

Review: The Editorial Office
Dmytro Bahnenko in The Editorial Office

Moving across the sandy steppes, with the occasional green spot of gnarly pine tree sticking out, young museum employee Yura (Dmytro Bahnenko) is on the lookout for an endangered species. Groundhogs could save the area from economic repurposing and lead to it being included in the European Green Belt. But instead of furry animals, Yura and his colleague Mykhailo (Oleksandr Shmal) spot something very different. Two arsonists are setting fire to the trees – the likely root of the ongoing forest fires. Yura manages to get pictures. The next logical step would be to take them to the authorities.

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The world through which the young researcher is moving is a vastly different one, of course. Corruption, manipulation and enrichment are the social norms in The Editorial Office [+see also:
interview: Roman Bondarchuk
film profile
]
, which has had its world premiere in the Forum section of the 74th Berlinale. Director Roman Bondarchuk is no stranger to the south of Ukraine. Not only did he shoot his multi-award-winning feature debut, Volcano [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Roman Bondarchuk
film profile
]
(2018), in the area, but he himself stems from this “no man’s land between Crimea and mainland Ukraine”.

Having grown up in a family of journalists, amidst the absurdist reality of their work, he wanted to make his sophomore film about news reporting. Similarly, Dmytro Bahnenko is a journalist-turned-actor, who has covered the Russian occupation. Yura’s quest to get the pictures out there is therefore not just the product of an extravagant mind; it is inspired by real events. After Mykhailo disappears, and the museum shows little interest in the fires, he takes his proof to a local paper.

The editor offers Yura a job. While the latter does not see himself as a journalist, his constant effort to refuse to let sleeping dogs lie has cost him his position at the museum and prompted a search of his home, which he shares with his Bitcoin-obsessed mother (Rymma Ziubina). But even here, truth lies in the eye of the beholder. Elections for the position of mayor are going on in the city, Yura’s story keeps getting pushed back, and his assignments consist of promoting deepfake social-media videos of the candidates dancing, making up suicide stories, reporting on a fake pipeline or blackmailing local figures of authority together with other newspaper staff (amongst them Volcano main actor Serhiy Stepansky). “Nobody gives a shit about facts,” is the mantra. Only sales and appeasing the ruling parties matter.

For Bondarchuk, the issue of setting fire to trees is not just about trees, of course. The symbolism of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and its media spin-doctoring is rather on the nose. Filmed right before the Russian invasion in February 2022, the looming war is not just a mood setter for the movie, but a kind of meta-level framing. But just as in Volcano, he balances his storytelling by diving into mythical, almost supernatural elements and obscurity. The Editorial Office is a strange beast shifting between curious, pointed satire and peculiar, fantastical sequences. Chaos, his mum’s boyfriend and party loyalist Ruslan (Andrii Kyrylchuk) tells him, is what keeps the region from being overrun from the outside. It’s best to keep it this way.

So is Yura being naïve? Is he a lost cause for trying to hold on to a truth that nobody wants? Or is he the last upright citizen, the unifying force that this region, in which identity has to be forged under the tattered banner of a Ukrainian flag, so badly needs? But maybe even in peace, so the film slyly suggests, there may always be a gamble, a reward for the ruthless ones, in the mix.

The Editorial Office was produced by Ukrainian company Moon Man in co-production with Ukraine’s South Films, Germany’s Elemag Pictures Slovakia’s Silverart and Czech outfit MasterFilm.

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