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BERLINALE 2024 Panorama

Svitlana Lishchynska • Réalisatrice de A Bit of a Stranger

“Juger les autres mène au génocide”


- BERLINALE 2024 : Ce documentaire par la cinéaste originaire de Marioupol montre la guerre qui fait rage en Ukraine, et au sein d'une famille

Svitlana Lishchynska • Réalisatrice de A Bit of a Stranger

Cet article est disponible en anglais.

In A Bit of a Stranger [+lire aussi :
interview : Svitlana Lishchynska
fiche film
, Svitlana Lishchynska, born in Mariupol during Soviet times, investigates the experiences of her own family – women deprived of their own national identity, she implies. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine forces them to rethink the lessons they’ve been taught, including her daughter, who flees to London, and her mother, suddenly rendered homeless. Lishchynska breaks down her Berlinale Panorama-screened documentary for us.

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Cineuropa: Was this always supposed to be such a personal story? War is a big part of it, still, but so are your family and complicated mother-daughter relationships.
Svitlana Lishchynska: It’s scary to tell personal stories: they force you to show your vulnerability. At first, I was trying to hide, planning to make a film about the people of Mariupol and their colonised, Russified minds. I never wanted to show myself. But during a workshop, one of my tutors was [Danish producer] Mikael Opstrup. He said: “There are two films in your story right now, and the personal part is just more interesting.” After that, I decided to focus on my family and really commit to it.

You prove how hard it is to start talking. With your mother and daughter, you finally learn to communicate, though. You express love, and you haven’t really done that in the past.
It was hard to convince them to participate at first. I remember having this argument with my family; it was New Year’s Eve. I just felt that something was about to happen. I told my mother that my friends would come over, with a camera, and she was against it. We didn’t talk for two weeks after that. They couldn’t understand why I wanted to “expose” our family like that – and to strangers, too! Then, in February, it was my granddaughter’s birthday party, and you could just sense the war was approaching. They felt a bit guilty about what had happened before, and they let me film.

My daughter was very cautious when we were talking about her own Russification. We know there is a problem; we know it exists. But we prefer to ignore it. Still, to cure a disease, you have to first call it what it really is. You have to identify the issue and establish where it came from. Eventually, they decided to trust me; they understood I wouldn’t harm them in this film. We started to talk, and it allowed us to really start thinking about our identity. If it weren’t for this film, I doubt we would ever have achieved that.

Now, during the war, everything is black and white – for good reason. You question it, wondering what patriotism is and whether it’s even needed. Do you think it may be seen as controversial?
The person you see in the film is not entirely like me. I focus on the part of my personality that was created in the USSR: that Russified part. If I’d had all the answers, I would have just posted something on Facebook. Instead, I wanted to explore this issue together with the viewers. That’s another reason why I allowed myself to be vulnerable like that.

These are not entirely new dilemmas to you. In the archive footage, you show a little girl standing in a corner, already questioning things.
My family was very ordinary. We could be some of those people who feel nostalgic for USSR ice cream. Nobody was tortured, nobody was imprisoned, but we lost something else: our sense of individuality and the ability to express ourselves. The ability to understand who we are. It’s tragic. I wanted to show that and talk about the problems of ordinary people. When you don’t have a sense of personal dignity, you can be convinced to do just about anything. Russian people still struggle with that. They are up to their necks in totalitarianism – individuality and humanity are not valued very highly. Nobody cares about them.

Once you’d decided to combine it all, family and politics, the past and the present, what was the one thing that still held the storyline together?
The main idea behind it was that judging people leads to genocide. If a society tolerates intolerance, like in Russia, it allows for that to happen. It always starts with little things, and suddenly, you wake up and you are convinced that you know how others should live. Hope is still a part of me, though. It sounds strange, but I realised that when making this film. Identity is responsibility. If you decide you are Ukrainian, no matter where you are right now, you are responsible for your society. You should do something. And if your country is at war, so are you – there is no hiding from it. Are Russian citizens ready to assume responsibility for the war? Let’s think about it. And let’s talk about it.

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