Slow and steady wins the race, but sometimes you have to remind the audience of that.
The last few years have seen a heavy layer of revolutions, both successful and failures. North Africa and the Middle East have been flash zones for fledgling democracies and the dream of better times, and films like the Square have captured the urgency of the situations and massive human stakes at close range, intimately following small stories to put a human face on the bigger story.
Sergei Loznitsa’s latest film Maidan, screened at Doclisbao last night, takes a much more methodical, stoic position. There is no “character’: the character is the people, it’s the movement, it’s the tangible defiance of the people to do anything but stand their ground.
Loznitsa achieves a seductive effect by precisely refusing to focus on one individual. The opening shot is what I’d call a “conceptual closeup”, not of one person, but of a sea of faces, standing shoulder to shoulder, united in singing the Ukranian national anthem.
The shot lasts the duration of the song, then cuts to another, equally long, equally large scale shot of the community at Maidan square, carrying flags, chopping wood for the oil drum fires, etc. It continues the pattern, shots lasting roughly 2 minutes on average, as we see assembly lines of people making sandwiches to feed folks at the front lines, trucks being handed out from the backs of trucks, people singing arm in arm or staying warm around fires. It’s a rigorous process, united mainly by the conceit of a rarely seen but always heard organizer on a microphone, rallying the people, dishing out logistic instructions, and introducing kids, priests and citizens standing up for the cause.
I have to admit that after an 11 hour day the methodical structure started to weigh on me. I wasn’t sure if I’d make it through the film.
Then things went wrong, as we knew they would, and the build up paid off tenfold. Where a moment earlier a piece of me was dying for a character I could connect with, I was now identifying with everyone in Maidan square. The scope and stakes of their struggle became a lump in throat. Dread started to rise in me as I hoped for the best and feared for the worst.
I can’t imagine how connecting the dots of that scale would have been possible using another approach, and I used some of what I took away from the screening in my thoughts today. I can feel it influencing a certain approach in another of my own projects.
But more importantly, it paid off big, while the bite-size chunk youtuber in me fought the me that wasn’t quite prepared to leave. Patience is a threatened temperament these days, and it’s films like this that renew my deeper understanding of the value of patience. It doesn’t all have to be hi-octane stuff folks. Revolutions take time, and so does good work.