By Roger Costa
THE DISTANT BARKING OF DOGS
Just like any other kid of his age, 10-year-old Oleg is experiencing the transition between childhood and teenhood with diverse effects. There’s also the euphoric enthusiasm, the thrills of an active life and the hormonal anxiety. But for Oleg, who lives on the Eastern side of Ukraine where a major, dreadful war is taking place, danger, risk and uncertainty are constant adversaries throughout his daily activities. At his early age, the kid already understands how to cope with loss, abandon and sorrow as he was left orphan and now lives under the care of his aging, hard-worker grandmother. He shares a deeply honest relationship with her, helping around the humble, very poor house, and being allowed to just be a kid. He plays with another kid younger than him, and with a teenager who introduces him to more risky adventures.
In both encounters, Oleg clearly expresses his emotions, anger, loneliness, excitement, and his inner voice seeking an identity: as he plays with the younger, he feels superior as he’s in charge; when he’s out with the teen, his feelings are more mature yet dependable, as if he had found a father figure somehow, a shoulder he can rely on. But all these conflicts, experiments and stirring emotions come a closer and deeper examination when he’s being instructed, guided and consoled by his grandmother. Oleg cautiously listens and absorbs her life lessons, practical and philosophical, as she points out the evident transformations on his process of growing up. Writer-Director Simon Lereng Wilmont follows about one year in the life of Oleg, his grandmother and his buddies, painting a painful, strikingly meditative canvas on being a child amidst a war zone.
As Oleg observes the lightnings of the bombings, and the terrifying explosions, the director makes an utterly moving statement on how to endure and survive human disorder and war cruelty. The result is an engrossing, unique and heartbreaking cinema-verité experience that expresses in every frame its hopes for a better future, for Oleg’s escape while claiming for peace, and for political agreement. Then when an inevitable accident hurts our little hero, proving the so-present lethal danger of war in their lives, it ascends into a higher level of realistic filmmaking, revealing itself as a powerful witness of the horrors of post-modern war.
(Winner of many prestigious awards including Best Doc at San Francisco, Amsterdam, Göteborg and the International Documentary Association prize, the film has been shortlisted for the 2019 Oscars competition. It screens Saturday, January 19th at 12 pm at Alamo Drafthouse Brooklyn NYC. Go to https://www.facebook.com/distantbarkingofdogs/ for other screenings.)