La Palisiada

****

Reviewed by: Levan Tskhovrebadze

La Palisiada
"La Palisiada emerges as a cinematic riddle, a playground where Sotnychenko revels in teasing the audience." | Photo: Courtesy of IFFR

In the disconcerting cadence of two unsettling gunshots, Ukrainian writer-director Philip Sotnychenko orchestrates a symphony of thought-provoking images in his debut feature, La Palisiada (2023). Awarded with the Fipresci prize at IFFR and honoured with the Heart of Sarajevo for Best Director at Sarajevo Film Festival, this innovative investigative drama is also vying for the European Discovery - Prix Fipresci at the European Film Awards.

The film's prologue unfolds amid a family gathering, a seemingly tranquil setting in our time. There's a discontented young man, who recently arrived from western Europe. His dissatisfaction with his homeland transforms him into a veritable headache, an incessant nagging force that challenges Ukrainian values. The tension escalates in the bedroom, culminating in a shocking act that sets the stage for the main story, set in 1996, five years post-Ukraine's declaration of independence and five months before the abolition of the death penalty.

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Embarking on judicial scrutiny of a murdered military officer, court-mandated psychiatrist Alexander (Andrii Zhurba) and detective Ildar (Novruz Hikmet) traverse from Kyiv to western Ukraine, unravelling a seemingly straightforward investigation into a complex web of relationships. Sotnychenko deliberately weaves a confusing narrative structure, immersing the audience in the labyrinthine world of forensic examination. The widow of the murdered officer shares a complex history with both investigators, while their own dynamics remain enigmatic, leaving audiences guessing about the true power dynamics.

La Palisiada emerges as a cinematic riddle, a playground where Sotnychenko revels in teasing the audience. Even in its denouement, much remains shrouded in ambiguity, mirroring an investigation built more on assumptions than concrete facts. The deliberate shift from Blackmagic to VHS serves a purpose, juxtaposing a fragmentary modern-day prologue with a nostalgic dive into the 1990s. Unlike typical portrayals of Eastern Europe in the Nineties that often exoticise poverty with high-quality imagery, Sotnychenko eschews this trend, opting to base his film on police VHS archives. He recreates scenes from this raw source, avoiding the temptation to romanticize hardship for Western audiences.

As the narrative unfolds, a second gunshot echoes, marking the execution of the culprit's death penalty. Yet, in true Sotnychenko fashion, doubt lingers, leaving both the audience and the investigation team uncertain of the perpetrator's absolute guilt. Drawing parallels to Cristi Puiu's Aurora (2010) in its dehumanising quality, invoking the dreadful essence reminiscent of Haneke's oeuvre, La Palisiada captivates with its shockingly engaging narrative. In this unanticipated foray into police stories, Sotnychenko blurs the line between fiction and documentary, constructing a controlled chaos where bullets serve as haunting echoes of past bloody deeds, unsettling the guilty consciences of the characters involved.

Reviewed on: 06 Dec 2023
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Two old friends, a detective and psychiatrist, investigate a murder of their colleague.

Director: Philip Sotnychenko

Writer: Alina Panasenko, Philip Sotnychenko

Starring: Cast: Novruz Hikmet, Andrii Zhurba, Valeriia Oleinykova, Olena Mamchur, Oleksandr Parkhomenko, Oleksander Malieiev

Year: 2023

Runtime: 100 minutes

Country: Ukraine

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