Courage

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Courage
"There is something optimistic about joining this wave of humanity, from all walks of life, as they brandish flowers in the air and peacefully demonstrate against the regime."

At the time of writing, in July 2021, the crackdown against those in Belarus wishing to oust president/dictator Alexander Lukashenko over last year's disputed election is continuing - with the editor of a newspaper critical of the regime hauled off for questioning at the website blocked.

Aliaksei Paluyan's timely documentary steps inside the resistance to Lukashenko's regime in the run up to last August's elections and afterwards, celebrating the peaceful protests and sense of solidarity in the anti-Lukashenko movement at the same time as capturing the uphill struggle they face for change. Leading us into the protests are a trio of actors from the Belarus Free Theatre, which has long brought a political edge to its work and whose directors, including Nicolai Khalezin - seen here directing via Skype - have spent years in exile.

Maryna, who has a young child, and Pavel are still performing at the theatre, while Dzianis is currently working as a car mechanic ("I betrayed my art and I am fully aware of that," he says ruefully), all of them blacklisted from films and united in their opposition to Lukashenko. Paluyan documents the day-to-day lives of the three actors as well as hitting the streets with them at protests.

Like the recent Nardjes, A - about protests in Algeria - there is something optimistic about joining this wave of humanity, from all walks of life, as they brandish flowers in the air and peacefully demonstrate against the regime, mostly with a simple chant of, "Go away!". We can sense the uplift the three get from being part of a movement, even while at the same time we can see exactly what they're up against - chiefly the masked might of the black clad police special forces (OMON). There's a real sense of mums versus thugs when you see the two groups at close proximity, with the women begging for news of their loved ones, although Paluyan also captures the haunted look of some, mostly younger, officers, some of whom are persuaded to 'down shields' and join the protestors.

There's further hopefulness to be found in how organised these protesters are. The theatre makes sure enough members stay away from the demonstrations so that they can fight for any colleagues scooped up by the authorities and it seems that last resort plans for flight from the country are also in place. Through it all, we return to the Theatre's productions as they consider oppression, democracy and, most poignantly, those who simply "disappear" - a stark reminder of how easily a regime can make someone "vanish", particularly if the rest of the world doesn't pay close enough attention.

Reviewed on: 14 Jul 2021
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Documentary about the protests in Belarus.

Director: Aliaksei Paluyan

Year: 2021

Runtime: 118 minutes

Country: Germany


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