a poignant documentary by journalist Loup Bureau about the daily life of Ukrainian soldiers in the Donbass War

One shot, then two. The image swings in all directions: Loup Bureau, camera in hand, runs off to take shelter from the bombing. For three months, the journalist filmed the war in Donbass, where the Ukrainian army resisted pro-Russian separatists, and the daily life of soldiers with blue and yellow flags. trencheshis documentary filmed in 2020, both powerful and moving, will be released in theaters on Wednesday, May 11.

“The warning signs that this conflict could degenerate were there. But we closed our eyes,” says Loup Bureau. After covering the Ukrainian revolutionary EuroMaidan movement and the start of the war in Ukraine in 2014, he is one of the few Western reporters who continued to travel regularly to Donbass. The only one who is also interested in this war that never stopped. In eight years the fighting has killed 14,000 and displaced millions.

A soldier of the Ukrainian Army's 30th Battalion after an attack by pro-Russian separatists.  (Office Wolf)

“When I first learned that the conflict in Ukraine had turned into trench warfare, I noticed the parallel with World War I,” says Loup Bureau. Thanks to the help of a friend and former soldier, Dima, he gets involved as a journalist in the 30th battalion of the Ukrainian army. He films a conflict of today, planted in a decor of yesterday. “I’ve had a shovel or a crowbar in my hand before and whatever it takes to make fortifications other than weapons”, confides in front of the camera with an imposing soldier, with linen tied around the skull and a toothless smile. He adds: “If you want to stay alive, dig.”

Loup Bureau shows men digging in his documentary. Camera on the shoulder, he follows them on the forehead, as during their wanderings in the newly plowed furrows. The black and white image brings out the play of light and shadow in the trenches and underground barracks. This choice gives a poetic – even melancholic – dimension to the documentary. The soldiers’ faces, filmed in close-up by the journalist during interviews, radiate a certain sweetness. Far from the brutal image of war.

Soldiers of the 30th Battalion of the Ukrainian Army during a meal.  (Office Wolf)

“What I learned from those long months in the trenches is that physical violence is just one part of war,” notes Loup Bureau. Strictly speaking, he never shoots fights, but instead focuses on filming everyday life. The camera observes the soldiers trying to imitate some sort of normality: a man cuts another’s hair, a table discusses under the trees, soldiers have fun playing video games on a small tablet… In the camp, cats and dogs are walking Free Around : There are many moments of tenderness between animals and soldiers.

Oxana, the only woman in the battalion, tries to reassure a kitten after a loud bang. Like she does with young soldiers. “I tell the boys, we arrived together, we will leave together”, she whispers in the seclusion of her hiding place. Here she plays the role of mother: older than most fighters – she’s 45 – she watches over these 20-year-old kids whose heads “is filled with wind, draft”† Sometimes it saturates with their lack of maturity. In an interview she adds: “You can always find common ground with them. I don’t know, I’m used to living with them.”

Oxana, the only woman in the Ukrainian Army's 30th Battalion.  (Office Wolf)

Loup Bureau transcribes the promiscuity inherent in the trenches on screen using the 4/3 format. Dimensions conducive to firm and elaborate plans. The journalist introduces what in photography is called “the frame within the frame”: he films a soldier through a door. The edges of the screen are black and the image stretches. By narrowing the frame in this way, he illustrates the psychological confinement of the soldiers. Some yawn, others wait, cigarette in hand. The interviews – in which several soldiers confide in their concerns – are often interrupted by explosions.

A soldier of the Ukrainian Army's 30th Battalion during an attack by pro-Russian separatists.  (Office Wolf)

“When we film a soldier at the front, we capture something very intimate and precious. The proximity of death touches our very existence, our deepest nature,” explains Loup Bureau. During a bombing raid, his camera films the arrival of a soldier in the trenches. Still breathless, he says he just returned from the front and just escaped death. He speaks as if the journalist is not there. “As I went back and forth, they got used to my presence and I gained their trust,” says the director.

Normally, journalists are only allowed to stay on the front lines for a few days. They are automatic followed by a press officer and are not allowed to sleep there. Not this time. Thanks to the negotiations led by his friend Dima, with the commanders, Loup Bureau infiltrated the battalion day and night. Equipped with a 20-kilogram bulletproof vest during the shooting, without any other technical team accompanying him, the journalist – who has risked his own life – delivers with trenches an unprecedented and poignant account of the war in Donbass, the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Genre : Documentary
Director: wolf office
pays: France
Expensive : 1h25
Sort : May 11, 2022
Distributor : the alchemists
Short content : On the frontline of Donbas, soldiers of the Ukrainian army’s 30th battalion clash with Russian-backed separatists. Director Loup Bureau immerses us in this wartime experience, at the height of men and in the heart of the trenches. Where everyone must protect themselves from death, but also try to recreate normality in the abnormal universe of conflict.

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