Orange Winter

2006, Movie, NR, 70 mins


Ukraine-born, American-based filmmaker Andrei Zagdansky's deeply frustrating "documentary essay" examines the Orange Revolution, a series of protests following Ukraine's 2004 presidential election, which was undermined by pervasive evidence of corruption, fraud and organized voter misconduct. Zagdansky's failure to systematically lay clear, linear historical groundwork for the events of late 2004 and 2005 is obviously deliberate, but without it the film is unenlightening to anyone not already conversant with the history of modern Ukraine and the details of this hotly contested election.

Part of the USSR since 1921, Ukraine became an independent state 70 years later, in the wake of the Soviet Union's dissolution. Leonid Kuchma was only its second president, and his administration was tainted by corruption, Russian influence and suppression of the press; Kuchma was even suspected of involvement in the 2000 murder of journalist Georgiy R. Gongadze. In keeping with Soviet tradition, the outgoing president anointed a successor: his prime minister, Viktor Yanukovych. Opponent Viktor Yushchenko was a charismatic, moderate politician who opposed Kuchma's excesses and was perceived as a candidate who could lead Ukraine into a modern, international future. While the mainstream press threw its weight behind Yanukovych, Yushchenko gained significant popular support. In September, Yushchenko fell violently ill and claimed he'd been poisoned, a contention supported by Austrian doctors who found high levels of dioxin in his blood. The first vote failed to produce a majority, and exit polls during the subsequent run-off election declared Yushchenko the clear winner. But newscasters reported it was Yanukovych — with the exception of interpreter for the deaf Natalia Dmitruk, who boldly signed that she was tired of translating lies. Ukrainian citizens — particularly students in the capital city of Kiev — took to the streets demanding a recount. Though monitored closely by the Special Purpose Police Force, the mass protests and spontaneous political actions never degenerated into bloodshed. After 13 days, the election results were overturned and Yushchenko won a second run-off.

Viewers can tease some of these facts out of Zagdansky's footage of milling crowds accompanied by smug, irritating English-language narration written by Alexander Genis. But other facts just aren't there, even though Zagdansky carefully includes symbolic clips from Boris Godunov, which was being performed at the Kiev Opera House on the eve of the first election, the more escapist La Traviata, which was presented the night the results were thrown out, and scenes from Alexander Dovzhenko's EARTH (1930), which he argues transcends its Soviet-propaganda origins to embody the tragedy of Ukrainians buffeted by external forces. Artistic though that approach is, more conventional historical material would have been helpful. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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