Everything Will be Fine

Mirza Skenderagić: Review of the film: „When Spring Came to Bucha“ - AJB DOC MAIN AWARD WINNER

Everything Will be Fine

The AJB DOC Main Award of the Competition Program of the 6th edition of the AJB DOC Festival, was presented to the award-winning film When Spring came to Bucha (2022) by the authorial duo Mila Teshaieva and Marcus Lenz. They entered Bucha, along with the reassembly of surviving Ukrainians, immediately upon its liberation to observe the destruction that befell this small Ukrainian town, but also to witness the optimism that was quietly, yet persistently, spreading among the community after 35 days of siege, brutal fighting and horrific crimes left behind by the Russian army. The apocalyptic scenes of scorched desolation at the start of the film do not inspire any hope for a fresh beginning, but when a frightened elderly woman on the street is embraced by a Ukrainian soldier who carefully tells her: "Everything will be fine", it becomes clear that this film is precisely that, a cinematic word of comfort that comes together with a horrifying truth, but like spring, promises peace, happiness, and love.

When Spring Came to Bucha is a film that flows at a consistent medium pace from beginning to end, maintaining a balanced dramaturgical rhythm without abrupt changes. At every cut, there is a sense of balance between horror and hope, fear and resilience, death and life, good and evil. Just when the smell of burning and decay becomes unbearable, the film offers a breath of fresh air that fills the space after one hug, one kiss, one kind word. However, this balance does not appear as a result of artificial and forced dramaturgical rearrangements; it is simply there, as part of the lives of the surviving Ukrainians from Bucha. As they talk about their murdered family members, move dead bodies, and enter their burned homes, they do not fall into despair nor invoke hatred; instead, they do it with dignity and calmness, with occasional, barely noticeable defiant smile, which cannot hide the pain or fear. While rebuilding their yards and destroyed houses, digging graves and tallying the dead, they share their stories, remember their loved ones, hope for peace, and continue their lives. Among them is Olga, who, while preparing lunch outdoors, says how she “had planned to order an entire kitchen for her birthday on April 8th," but she "received a slightly different birthday present": "the exhumation of the bodies of her killed neighbours." Yuriy then talks about how they retrieve bodies from Boyarka and Obukhiv, transport them to the cemetery, and organize burials, all while he simultaneously struggles to provide drinking water for the community. However, the most intimate moment of his story in the film is when he finds his old car and calls his son to tell him that. Olenka, the little girl, remains the only child in her school class. The impact of the war on children, as well as the extent to which documentary and reality are blended, is accurately defined by the sudden sound of a shell, which frightens Olenka to such an extent that her whole body shudders. "This is from our guys!", her friend will tell her, to which Olenka responds: "It happens," and continue with her artwork. The most moving story is that of the widow Liudmyla, who is searching for the body of her husband, who was shot in the head, right at the entrance to their house.

While it may seem that Teshaieva and Lenz strive to present these stories in their rawest form, as close to reality as possible, they still find stylistic minimalism in predominantly static, slightly longer shots, with only occasional camera movements necessary to follow someone's actions or point to a freshly dug grave in the yard. Most often, they let the streets, buildings, yards, and houses "speak" for themselves about the "scorched earth," freeing up space between these scenes for the characters and interaction with them, thus maintaining the world of documentarism in pure objectivity. It simply looks like the characters approach and initiate conversations on their own, whether with soldiers or directors – it's all the same to them. Also, this approach by the director of photography Marcus Lenz greatly contributes to the sense of dignity in death and dedication to the continuation of life. Also, the entire film is “coloured” by heavy fog and a post-apocalyptic greyness, while the persistent whiteness is only replaced by a blue sky in the penultimate frame, with branches in early bloom "decorated" with torn clothing. The sun may also peek through at certain moments, such as during the outdoor wedding, hinting at the arrival of spring and, perhaps, the end of the war. Life will subtly but surely rebuild from the ground up. While dead bodies still lie in the streets and coffins await, the names of the dead must be recorded, the little girl must continue her education, the newlyweds must dance at the square, and somewhere they must find the place to sleep and lunch must be prepared. Life must go on.

Sudden cuts between happiness and sorrow, like fuses in the dosage of both, indicate the necessary escape from the darkness of tragedy, but without the sky jumps of false optimism that, after disappointment, always returns to inevitable bottom. All the characters in this film are very cautious and aware of the situation they find themselves in, and they still "see bombs" in their dreams. As little Olenka says, "life will never be the same." Just as the film is narratively divided into negative and positive, so the authors also stylistically construct a visual pyramid in which the characters sometimes lead into the darkness of the basement with bloody mattresses, and sometimes go out into the street to dance. Over time, one will be able to recognize an unusual unity of dream and reality, excavated holes and weddings, from one point creating a slight feeling of dreaming in which the war is both over and still going on. This is typical of the post-apocalyptic genre, which does not yet exist in the documentary genre. It is clear from the beginning that life is neither entirely beautiful nor entirely painful, but always a bit of both. That is also clear thanks to the musical background created by Dakha Brakha and Ganna Gryniva, which, in a few instances, with an angelic voice, erases the boundary between the past and the future, between falling asleep and waking up, between horror and beauty. Of course, religion, that is, the church, also plays a certain role in building a new community, but in this film, it is defined by one scene, the one in which a young Ukrainian priest speaks against the Moscow Patriarchate, only to be interrupted by a female citizen with the words: "How dare you talk about churches! I have nowhere to live! Who cares?! There is only one God!" 

While all this seems, relentlessly, as if was already experienced and almost palpably real, with people who have never been more united and humane than in the war, spring arrives and the film ends as it began... with words of comfort: "Everything will be wonderful again."