We’re thrown into the Donbass region of Eastern Ukraine, where war still reigns even if the news crews of the world have lost interest in it.

We get next to no information about the war itself, it’s source or how things are going on the front in Sergey Losnitza’s most recent film, named Donbass after the region, which is also it’s unifying element. The film gives us 13 loosely connected stories, the main unifying tissue being the region. Apart from a few explosions, shocking because they usually come from nowhere, we see very few actual war scenes as such, this is more about what happens in the shadows behind the bombs.

The stories are of varying quality, but the best ones show us well how a culture of bullying blossoms during wartime like never before. The strongest scene shows a man tied to a lamppost, marked as a traitor by the sign on his chest. Youths passing him by humiliate him by taking ironic selfies with him, before they – and the grannies also passing by – give him a serious beating. Another scene shows us a man walking past a row of soldiers who beat his back with sticks.

A more innocent scene shows a similar dynamic when an army officer forces a man to give his car to the army through a mixture of veiled threats and accusations of a lack of patriotism.

We also get a glimpse of how history is used to justify the past, like when a German reporter is harassed about a 70-year-old war, with one of the soldiers calling out: “If you are not a fascist your grandfather was!”

This is a barbarian circus in a hellish winter of war where actors get jobs acting in fake news and you’re left with the lingering feeling this war might rage a lot longer, if only for all those who profit from it and all the bullies who have found their paradise.

The style is a bit pseudo-documentary – ironically enough Losnitza does the documentary style much better in fiction then in actual documentaries, something I mentioned when writing about his last doc here.

Text: Ásgeir H Ingólfsson