The title of this extraordinary and sobering documentary refers to the central city square in Kiev that Ukrainians took over when protesting the government of President Viktor Yanukovych last winter. The protests started in November 2013 and led eventually to Yanukovych’s removal from office, but not before dozens of people lost their lives in fights with special police forces and amid the fiery chaos. The name of the square is Maidan Nezalezhnosti, which translates to “Independence Square.” Filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa set up his camera right in the middle of the city center, giving us an unflinching look at the anger, the passion, the camaraderie, and the destruction in the days leading up to the 2014 revolution.
And Loznitsa’s camera speaks for itself. Aside from the occasional bits of text, there are no words addressing the viewer. There are no talking heads, nor any narration. All sounds heard in the film were recorded in the protests. We hear (or read in the subtitles) the words of protest directors shouting instructions on the loudspeaker, the poets and singers performing on the main stage. The rest is white noise: mutterings, chants, or the sounds of explosions. Visually, Loznitsa plops us into the midst of life in the maidan, showing us, through the use of extremely long, static shots, particular aspects of existence in the public-space-turned-battlecamp. The experience isn’t so much of the fly-on-the-wall variety as it is a window into the unfolding revolution. After watching it, one almost feels a sense of having participated.
This comes about, in part, because the documentary is often boring. Many of the shots just show people walking around the crowded maidan, listening to speech after speech with the same rhetoric blasting the “criminal” regime. It only holds the attention for so long. After a while, the experience boils down to people-watching. Yet that tedious examination brings out a humanness in the film. After all, there are no main characters here. On the contrary, there are just thousands of Ukrainians upset with their government, demanding change and willing to spill blood for it. And by the time violence erupts, watching random protesters get sniped in a crowd is particularly sobering. Loznitsa’s choice to shut up and let us witness the movement for ourselves ensures that one can’t walk away without being reminded that a people’s yearning for freedom is often tragically realized at the cost of lives.
Maidan is playing Friday and Saturday at the Walker Art Center.
The best thing about Spring is that it wears its weirdness on its sleeve. At once a story about new beginnings and true love, it’s also a strange sci-fi thriller that filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead go through considerable effort to ground in some type of reality. While the film struggles to keep a steady tone, it’s so light on its feet that just keeping up as it goes from goofy travel romance to bizarre emo fantasy is fun in itself.
The story starts with death. Independent and charming Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) says goodbye to his last remaining parent as cancer takes her life, and then he proceeds to watch his world unravel. Hard drinking, a bar fight, trouble with the cops, and a failed booty call push him to the limit. In a rush to get away from southern California, he somehow affords a ticket to Italy for a pre-Spring break retreat. With just a single set of clothes and a backpack, he makes it down to a seaside Mediterranean city where he happens upon the gorgeous Louise (Nadia Hilker). She’s got a mane of black hair, tigress eyes, and is easily able to keep up with Evan’s Cali-cool-guy flirtatious banter.
Some have likened this American guy vs. European girl flirtfest to Richard Linklater’s 1995 classic Before Sunrise. But whereas Linklater’s film amazed us in managing a lofty romance without employing any cheap steaminess, Spring is more basic. First off, the love story takes place over a period of a week (Linkerlater’s was over a single night) and the romance depicted plays more like a college boy dream sequence (sex on the first date, lots of wine, nudity, and even grand declarations of love). Seen from this perspective, Spring loses its charm. But the sci-fi angle brings freshness and danger to the male fantasy.
Louise, after all, has a secret. It’s one that the audience realizes well before Evan does. The girl is a bizarre, epochs-old creature that’s a mix between a werewolf, a vampire and Nintendo’s Kirby. She needs Evan for her own complicated DNA reasons, and yet she develops feelings for her vessel. Things get real interesting when Evan finally realizes his dream girl is a shapeshifting murderer and he’s forced to choose between staying alive and following his heart. Thankfully, the romantic pitch is kept in check by a constant trickle of jokes. The movie, with all its romance and sci-fi, tries so often for laughs that the entire combination goes down like a bubbly, aqua-blue soda fountain concoction. It might not be something you’ll want to taste again, but the flavor is hard to forget.
Spring is playing over at the St. Anthony Main Theatre.