Searching For Nika


Reviewed by: Sergiu Inizian

Searching For Nika
"Among the vastness of the ruins, Kapralov offers glimpses of hope through contrasting images of nature." | Photo: Courtesy of DOC NYC

Throwing caution to the wind, Stanislav Kapralov returns to Ukraine and captures a unique image of resilience in the face of war. In his emotional attempt to find his dog Nika he meets veterinarians, volunteers and survivors who love animals. These characters and their four-legged companions give life to barren conflict zones but also unveil a painful portrait of senseless violence against all living things.

Through social media and phone calls, Kapralov meets like-minded survivors who stake their lives for the safety of animals. They are aggrieved but not cynical. War has hardened them and they show great determination in preserving life. The director follows them around with a minimal crew, almost imitating the simple, if not rudimentary style of a TV reportage. On top of this, his own off-screen narration feels ponderous and often redundant. But, his empathy drives him to gently explore the feelings of the interviewees, resulting in an unavoidable narrative of bloodshed.

Venturing into increasingly dangerous regions, the filmmaker becomes active in animal rescue operations. He bonds with those he interviews and as emotions reach a tipping point, many of his countrymen find themselves at a loss for words. Understanding their trauma, he cuts away to an intense collage that pairs abrasive war footage with warm pet videos. This segment offers more context on the Russian invasion and reveals emotive details about the director’s life before the conflict.

The lengthy investigation into the whereabouts of Nika compellingly captures the risk involved when saving animals in a conflict zone. Close-ups that depict the oppressive conditions of their endeavours are coupled with wide aerial shots of rubble, creating a clear representation of palpable peril. As they’re skating on thin ice, the volunteers persist. They sense an obligation to uphold what is honourable in the face of overwhelming injustice.

Among the vastness of the ruins, Kapralov offers glimpses of hope through contrasting images of nature. Right from the beginning, he shows an ant briefly transversing a destroyed road. This shot sets the scene for a beautiful message of hopeful regeneration, achieved through the endurance of all filmed animals, from cats to ostriches and even a lion relocated to a Polish sanctuary.

Starting as a precarious journey to find a beloved family companion, this compassionate documentary ends up exploring the genuine connections between people and animals. In the chaotic environment of war-torn Ukraine, survivors and pets find mutual respite, forming an emotional depiction of fortitude. Inspired by the perseverance of those who would volunteer to save Nika's life, the filmmaker casts them as heroes. In his eyes, they are already deserved victors.

Reviewed on: 17 Nov 2023
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A Ukrainian filmmaker ventures into his war-torn country hoping to find his dog.

Director: Stanislav Kapralov

Year: 2023

Runtime: 77 minutes

Country: Spain, Ukraine, US


DOC NYC 2023

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