This week, the DAFilms portal presents films by one of the most significant Belarusian filmmakers of today. Out of the rich filmography of Victor Asliuk, we have selected three short-length documentaries from the Belarusian countryside; the director’s favourite setting.
Asliuk is an enthusiastic chronicler of life in the Belarusian countryside. Respecting its atmosphere and slow rhythm which naturally penetrate his films, he takes notice of various rituals while honouring the greatness of “little” stories. He keeps returning to the theme of the Belarusian countryside over and over again. As he is a very patient observer, his camera becomes a natural part of the events; it seems to have become a common stage property of country life. Far from pursuing his protagonists, he rather allows them absolute freedom. Unlike the camera of a journalist, his camera does not seek drama, rather representing the tool of a village scholar; a chronicler carefully composing the image of the country world out of simple gestures, unforced movements, sporadic words and frowning looks of wrinkled faces affected not only by age and harsh nature but also hard work and alcohol. His films The Wheel, Maria and We Are Living on the Edge (the latter being considered Asliuk’s master work by renowned Canadian filmmaker Mike Hoolboom) were made in the time span of a few years, however, all of them take place in the 21st century. A spectator from the West might feel as if on a journey against time though, going back to the second half of the 20th century. The reality of Belarusian countryside is harsh and unsentimental and Victor Asliuk does present it as such. At the same time, however, he does not approach the landscape and people in it with exaggerated criticism or sensation. On the contrary, his films show kindness and sympathies for the vulnerable way of life at the bottom of the abyss of poverty.
An informed visitor of the DAFilms portal might find Asliuk’s filmmaking style reminiscent of works by other outstanding portrait painters of rural life in Eastern Europe; e.g. awarded Russian filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa (Artel, Landscape, Portrait) or Lithuanian director Arunas Matelis (From Unfinished Tales of Jerusalem). Asliuk shares their original filmmaking approach, the ability to see important values behind the curtain of oppressive everydayness as well as the nearly existential interest in the depiction of human life. The Belarusian director does not construct his films in such a sophisticated way as “obstinate” Loznitsa; his portraits are not penetrated by Loznitsa’s disquieting urgency; neither are they as enigmatic as the works by Matelis. Hopefully it is not too simplifying to say that out of the three filmmakers of the generation, Victor Asliuk is the greatest realist. His films mostly have the pure form of an observational documentary, concentrating on “here and now” without searching for metaphysical phenomena beyond the horizon of everyday events; without renouncing psychology, they do not substitute it by symbolism either. Unlike his above mentioned colleagues, Asliuk “tames” both his creative style and authorial subject. His perspective of the countryside is that of a patient observer; a chronicler of a place where time has stopped.
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