The Earth Is Blue As an Orange review – subtle doc tells Ukrainian family’s war story | Film

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This sensitive and astute Sundance-winning documentary, in which Kyiv-based director and poet Iryna Tsilyk haunts the back alleys of the Russo-Ukrainian war, is the antidote to the warped propaganda-fest the conflict was depicted as in the 2018 film Donbass. It layers fact and fiction as delicately as an onion as it focuses on the Trofymchuk-Gladky family, who are attempting to shoot piecemeal their own fictional work, called 2014, based on their wartime experiences. But, here, artifice and cinema work entirely in the service of good. They are a source of self-expression and spiritual nourishment for Ukrainians beaten down by close to a decade of fighting.

Tsilyk mentored budding film-maker Myroslava Trofymchuk at a workshop, and it is the teenager we see here calling the shots for her family as they act in scenes hunkering down in their cellar; echoes of the shock and trauma they are simultaneously living for real, inspecting bomb damage by smartphone light. The whole household – including single mother Anna and her other three children – is clearly deeply invested in the project, squabbling over shot choices at dinner. After jubilantly celebrating her daughter being accepted for a film scholarship in Kyiv, Anna packs her off, still in hyper-protective mode: “The only thing, I beg you, if you are being bullied, please call me.”

A discreet self-reflexivity settles in like a dusting of snow. At one point, Myroslava persuades some patrolling soldiers to take part in a vignette in which Anna plays a mother asking them for medicines – then Anna, no longer acting, explains to them the real-life incident that inspired it. Throughout, Tsilyk observes the family at work and repose in beautiful, pallid cinematography.

The war itself even starts to take on a provisional, make-believe quality amid the family’s fictionalisation. Creative boltholes for escaping it open up; near the end, one of the boys tries out a folk melody on an accordion, giving cheery little “Whoo-hoo!”s in accompaniment. A halo of kinship, love and the tenacious power of art is gathered around this film.

The Earth Is Blue As an Orange is available in cinemas and on Klassiki on 20 July.

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