Around the world, the aesthetic of revolt flows unabridged, immediate, and jittery, the revolution in any room, livestreamed from Android to MacBook and perhaps soon to NBC. Protests today are leaping over the walls of access, time, and custom that once separated witnesses from viewers from reporters from history.
Which makes Maidan, Sergei Loznitsa’s unblinking and stirring documentary of last year’s Ukrainian protests that ended in the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych — some 90 days of rebellion, repression, and victory in Kiev’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) — seem like even more of a formal, rigorous outlier. Eschewing talking heads, interviews, and voiceovers, Maidan consists almost entirely of long, fixed, magisterial takes. Its tableaux of massive rallies, steaming kitchens, and fierce street battles with police unfold in lean, statuesque detail and perspective, a moving-picture memorial to the glory of heroes.
Loznitsa set out to chronicle a moment of solidarity, freedom, and hope — what he calls “a free spirit of the nation, awakening from a long sleep” — and so frames the events as a collective saga. The individual nests in the mass. Speeches and conversation hang over Maidan, yet the speaker is rarely seen. Little distinguishes the individual from his or her grand anonymity — like a Where’s Waldo image without Waldo or the wizard, only action, solidarity, chaos, and beauty.
But while Loznitsa may have strived to remove himself from Maidan, his position, conveyed by his authoritative watch, is unambiguous: the Euromaidan movement is politically, morally correct. It is also frequently stunning, full of fire-lit silhouettes tossing tires into a blaze or of imbricated heads singing the national anthem. Phones sparkle at a nighttime vigil. The period of demonstrations, rallies, and prayers forms half of the film, before the perhaps inevitable nightmare of the police. Impassive but firmly planted among the protesters and their camps, Maidan shuffles images of immediacy and power.
Throughout the camaraderie, pain, and victory, the film stays in Maidan, not departing for celebrations or gawking at Yanukovych’s palatial home but ending solemnly with reverence for those who were lost. One of about three textual background scenes informs us that over 100 people died in the clashes; who they were and how they met their ends, however, remain unknown. Maidan’s scale can soar too high, shadowing the finer points. The political is personal here, but the personal is mass, and in the unseen interstices there exists a storm of missing context that speaks to how thousands of individuals came and stuck together through the Ukrainian winter. Absent this, Maidan is like the place it chronicles: a monument to independence. It’s something to be visited and seen — all the while wondering what it was like to be there.