Ukraine. In a temporary shelter for children who are waiting to go back to their family or to be brought to an orphanage, we follow the stories of a few of these kids and their personal events.
They live in a building that is only a place of passage, they are not supposed to stay there longer than nine months. They are aware of it, they know that every relationship, every bond they will develop in this period will probably be temporary too.
The characters the director, Simon Lereng Wilmont, focuses on are all coming from problematic families. Most of their parents struggle with alcohol and that’s why they lost custody of their daughters and sons, at least for a time. The two different paths these children will find, coming back to their family or living in an orphanage, will shape their destiny.
The movie never falls in rhetoric and stereotypes, there is no judgment, only observations and, of course, emotional participation in the events.
All the kids have, at least to some degree, relationship issues due to their traumatic experience. The most amazing thing is that, being kids, they find a way to connect with each other; probably the most powerful scene in the movie is when three or four kids are talking under a blanket fort. They are in the dark, with their faces shaped only by a colorful little toy light. They are sharing their struggles with the parents and a specific story is very intense: the kid is explaining how his father stabbed his mother in the stomach, multiple times. The powerful thing is not even the tragic story, but the reaction of the others: they are just listening in silence, processing the information without trying at all costs to comfort in a superficial way the person who is sharing his drama. This is an ability that people lose when we grow up, because we start to understand that we need to behave according to some standard that society imposes on us. Relationships between children are, instead, more pure and sincere, less influenced by other factors.
Of course these are unconventional kids, they are way more mature than others at their age: if your mother leaves you alone in the house for days, you need to learn how to find food, how to deal with the loneliness, how to take care of yourself. And doing so when you are still a kid, like little Sasha, is hard.
The reference to Beasts of Southern Wild is clear, both on style and content. The formal choices in cinematography are a way to push the viewers inside the story, to connect with the characters through close-ups with the camera, a warm and cozy color palette and a rhythm that takes its time, without rushing the scenes. The camera never gives the impression of invading the children’s privacy or life, and this is impressive.
But it’s also possible to think about the beautiful Where the wild things are, again because of the style but even more, in this case, because of the story of Kolya.
The children need to deal with the consequences of their actions and they need to learn from them. Their tutors in the shelter try in every way, with politeness and understanding, to explain to them why some behaviors are wrong, like writing on doors, smoking or stealing a few coins. But in the end it’s up to them, to the kids themselves. Especially in Kolya’s case: it’s his life drama, the events happening to him that teach him what to do. He doesn’t really change his behavior, he doesn’t stop being a rebel during the movie, but we can clearly feel he understands anyway and that his actions are only a cry for attention. His mother is not visiting anymore, she doesn’t care about him and his siblings; that’s why, being the oldest brother, he needs to take the role of a protector for his little siblings, almost as a parent even if he is only a kid.
The movie of course is not only sadness and loneliness.
There is hope in all the stories told, from Eva who ends up living with her grandmother, to Kolya who gets separated from his siblings. It’s a bittersweet ending, because we know that all these children will always have a scar, it’s hard to accept and get over the fact that your parents don’t want or can’t take care of you. Sometimes you just want to cry in your mother’s arm, and when this is not possible anymore you have to find a way to deal with it and move on. However, after watching these children for two hours reacting to life, we are sure they will.
The movie won the the Golden Alexander prize at the 24th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival.