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Review

20 Days in Mariupol: Oscar chances for Ukraine war documentary

10 March, 2024 Sunday
18:40

Mstyslav Chernov's film about the first days of Russia's invasion of Mariupol has been nominated for Best Documentary at the 2024 Oscars. But can it actually win the award?

20 Days in Mariupol: a movie that is painful to watch


 

Photo: Planeta Kino

"It's painful to watch. But it should be painful to watch." This is what Mstyslav Chernov, an Associated Press war correspondent, says about the documentary 20 Days in Mariupol. He, photographer Yevhen Malolietka and producer Vasilisa Stepanenko, who worked together on the film, were among the last international journalists to leave the Ukrainian city. They got out of the besieged Mariupol, saving footage that showed the world the terrible truth about the Russian invasion.

The film, created in cooperation with FRONTLINE, an American documentary studio, and the Associated Press, is a chronicle of the first 20 days of the full-scale invasion, told through the stories of people who witnessed and were victims of Russian atrocities. 20 Days in Mariupol shows how the Russians turned the city into ruins: bombing of a maternity hospital, shelling of residential buildings, mass graves, hiding civilians in basements, and the rescue of the authors from the besieged Mariupol. The film is accompanied by Chernov's voiceover. As the director explained in an interview, he does not express his own judgments or draw conclusions but helps the audience better understand what is happening on the screen.

Winning at Sundance, BAFTA, and reviews by foreign media

Photo: Getty Images

The world premiere of the documentary took place at the prestigious American independent film festival Sundance in January 2023. It was the first screening and the first award, the Audience Award. For more than a year, the film about the siege of Ukrainian Mariupol has won 28 awards at numerous film festivals around the world, including the Cleveland International Film Festival, the National Board of Film Critics, and the BAFTA Award, which is called the British Oscar for Best Documentary.

IndieWire, an American publication that specializes in the film industry and film reviews, has named 20 Days in Mariupol among the top ten documentaries of 2023.

"Chernov frequently blurs the most severe injuries, but it’s the puddles of blood, dead animals and lifeless limbs half-buried by rubble that indicate the sheer scale of suffering in Mariupol. His jarringly stoic narration and haunting original music by Jordan Dykstra add to the sense that, in Mariupol, nothing is left. This is not a film about President Zelensky’s Churchillian leadership or the heroism of first responders (though if you look, there is some of that). If “20 Days in Mariupol” is about anything, it’s how much destruction can be done in such a short time."

 

The Guardian has included the film in its list of the best films in the US (6th place) and the UK (4th place). The Guardian calls 20 Days in Mariupol an exhausting, compelling and vital film.

“This film is really a broadcast from hell on earth. Chernov shows in unflinching detail the shattered bodies of men, women and children, and even more unbearably shows the agony of loved ones sobbing over the corpses: a blaze of emotional pain almost obscene in its directness, “The Guardian notes.

 

Will the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts award an Oscar to a Ukrainian film?

The Ukrainian film will compete with four other films in the nomination: Four Daughters (France, Tunisia, Germany and Saudi Arabia), Bobi Wine: The People's President (Uganda, the UK and the USA), The Eternal Memory (Chile) and To Kill a Tiger (Canada). 

Four Daughters focuses on the story of a Tunisian mother who lost two of her four daughters. After the elder girls disappear, the director Kaouther Ben Hania invites professional actresses to fill in their absence, which helps illustrate the real loss.

The Eternal Memory tells the story of the unique relationship between Chilean journalist Augusto Gongora and Chilean actress Paulina Urrutia. The couple has been together for 25 years. Augusto was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease 8 years ago, and Paulina has been taking care of him ever since. They both fear the day when he will no longer recognize her.

Bobi Wine: The People's President is a political film about the presidential campaign of Ugandan singer Bobi Wine.

The film To Kill a Tiger depicts an Indian family seeking justice after the sexual assault of their teenage daughter. 

The most popular source in Hollywood that is relied upon to predict Oscar and Emmy winners is Gold Derby. Gold Derby collects opinions from film industry experts, including writers from Variety, People Magazine, ABC, Fox, IMDb, Awards Daily, Queerty, and Gold Derby. On the eve of the Oscars 2024, 26 out of 27 experts believe that 20 Days in Mariupol will win the statuette in the Best Documentary category. It will become clear how accurate their predictions will be on the night of March 10-11.


 
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