Tekst (smal)

Cannes 2024: Sergei Loznitsa on The Invasion

Interview by Geoffrey Macnab

The Ukrainian filmmaker talks to SEE NL about his latest documentary, one of Cannes' Special Screenings, which chronicles life during wartime, as Ukraine continues to repel the Russian invasion.

Still: The Invasion - Sergei Loznitsa

Sergei Loznitsa describes himself as “an old bibliophile who never travels anywhere without having at least four or five books in my luggage and whose personal library consists of over 10,000 volumes.” That’s why one sequence in his new feature documentary The Invasion (a special screening in Cannes) was so uncomfortable for the Ukrainian director. 

The film, shot over a two-year period, looks at everyday life in Ukraine since the full-scale invasion by Russia in February 2022. It has funerals, weddings, scenes showing citizens filling up plastic bottles with water, shots of target practice with new army recruits and of war veterans who’ve lost limbs at the rehab centre, and grim imagery showing destroyed bridges and abandoned classrooms. There is also footage of piles of books being gathered up and taken away to be destroyed - books primarily by Russian authors.

“This episode is one aspect of the horror of the war, just like all the other episodes,” Loznitsa reflects. “Of course, this is the direct consequence of the nightmare that people are living through. In a way, it is understandable but it is very difficult to accept.”

The Invasion is one of the Dutch productions in Cannes this year. Like all of the director’s recent works, it was made through his Dutch company, Atoms & Void, and he produced it alongside his partner in the company, Maria Choustova.

The documentary represents an extraordinary feat of logistics. Shooting began in August 2022 with support from ARTE France, and went on for almost two years. “My intention from the very beginning was to present a palette, a tapestry, of events and of life throughout Ukraine.”

As with his 2014 film Maidan, Loznitsa started off by making a list of locations, events and “important days,” and dispatched crews consisting of a cameraman, camera assistant and a sound recordist to various locations in Ukraine and to various venues in Kyiv usually on 1- or 2-day long expeditions. “Every episode had to have its own complete narrative - the beginning, the development, the crescendo, the climax…it had to be a mini-story, a short film in its own right,” says Loznitsa. 

“The project was initially conceived as a series of urgent, almost ‘real time’ dispatches from Ukraine, focusing on the impact of the invasion on the civilian population of Ukraine. But it was never meant to be a ‘current affairs’ style reportage,” he adds. “It was crucial to maintain a certain distance in order to achieve the artistic goal.” 

In the process, a “significant body of material” was shot.

“I remained in the editing room in Vilnius, received the footage as soon as it became available and edited episodes for the future film. I then worked with the sound designer on the sound design and mix. The initial intention was to release the episodes as individual short films and it was essential to work on the editing and post-production immediately, likewise in ‘real time.’” 

Loznitsa ended up with 30 completed episodes running from eight to 30 minutes each. In November last year, he began to assemble the feature-length movie out of this material.

Obviously, the documentary is bleak. It deals with death, suffering and deprivation. Nonetheless, it also contains moments of optimism and humour. Many of its subjects show extraordinary resilience in very adverse circumstances. 

“Life is always multi-faceted. As we know, there is always a place for lighter moments, humour [and] absurdity, even under these tragic circumstances,” Loznitsa reflects. “At the same time, even in these scenes in the film that are lighter and more cheerful, there is still the presence of tragedy there. Even in the wedding scene, there is this tragic element because we understand the groom is a soldier. He is likely to go to the front and no-one knows what will happen to him…”

Sales on The Invasion are handled by Atoms & Void. The film was made in co-production with ARTE France and in association with Current Time TV (US).

Here you will find the complete overview of Dutch (co-)productions in Cannes and the screening schedule.

Director: Sergei Loznitsa
Film: The Invasion
Festival: Cannes