Viktor Dashuk's doc about Belarus establishes the land-locked nation as an insecure police state and a menacing place. It's a land that demonstrates the credo: absolute power corrupts absolutely. What with a former-KGB suit and now limitless term president rubbing out rivals and commanding police to tenderize grannies just as fast as youths can chuck rocks-it's hard to get any other impression. Prospects to fill seats might be dashed by the film's splotchy editing and winded essay narration.
The bullhorn tone taken by journalist/filmmaker Dashuk pushes the case that injustice is devastating Belarus. Steady hands recorded everything from brutalized marchers to gloved hands covering obscenities. Scenes go inside the eye of the storm where mobs stand-up against armed soldiers. This is the strongest counterpunch thrown in a film aiming all its homemade weaponry at a powerful ruler (pegged a dictator) named Alexander Lukashenko and his loyal henchmen.
Low-resolution footage from the frontlines of uprisings is spliced together adequately. Sometimes the substance is sniper fatal. Police unleash physical fury and plain-clothed goons arrest citizens without provocation. Daylight kidnappings and mercenary gangs' in ski masks with automatic hardware brutalize one dissenter after the next. One long standoff shows the country's prosecutor general denied access into his own office by an invisible ad hoc presidential decree. Diplomacy is spit on as this junta manifests. The prosecutor general appeals to the ironfisted leader while journalists' tapes roll. Nobody's getting access today.
Chants of "We want freedom! No more 1937!" are powerful preludes to an emboldened resistance that marches to avoid herd-style obedience. The streets of Minsk run red with blood because people refuse to grovel under Lukashenko. They're willing to go to prison or die trying to achieve regime change. Too many have suffered beatdowns and been stripped of dignity. Slo-mo shots of the leader dancing with a homely pauper or palm-pressing with cronies are cheaply intercut to incite more off-putting emotions.
Slow-motion visuals of the president are over-used and usually accompanied with eerie, synth instrumentals that recall the cheesy horror flick motifs of the ‘80s. The film's narration, delivered in six episodes, is verbose. Dashuk tries too hard to explain instead of show the president's evils. When talking off-camera stops and the slow-mo is sped-up, the work sings and the message works. Surely Lukashenko's power lust is great. Only twice do we hear him speak. First when he's sworn in and again when he shouts sweet nothings to his doubters. "We'll screw their heads off...I'll do it personally."
The film's screening is itself a victory; it's leaking sensitive material that the guard would wish censored. Filmmaker Viktor Dashuk goes before the camera and knows there will be a bounty on his head come the film's release. But he seems unfettered. Emboldened even. So too are other interviewees-many living in isolation from their families since granted political asylum.
The message is universal. Were it not for sleepless folks like Dashuk, totalitarian regimes led by whatever tyrant de jour might never face the only justice there is... a public court of opinion.
Distributor: Cinema Purgatorio
Director/Screenwriter/Producer: Viktor Dashuk
Running time: 96 min.
Release date: May 18 NY