The Movie Waffler Tribeca Film Festival 2024 Review - UNDER THE GREY SKY | The Movie Waffler

Tribeca Film Festival 2024 Review - UNDER THE GREY SKY

Under the Grey Sky review
A Belarusian journalist is arrested and jailed for livestreaming an anti-government protest.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Mara Tamkovich

Starring: Aliaksandra Vaitsekhovich, Valentin Novopolskij

Under the Grey Sky poster

There's a moment in Mara Tamkovich's poiltical drama Under the Grey Sky in which two beleaguered activists are slightly revitalised at a low point by mouthing along with the lyrics of a Soviet era Belarusian pop song. The song speaks of being a product of a country known for grey skies, potatoes, black bread and other unremarkable details, but deciding to stick around when many others might leave such a glum place. Like the song, Tamkovich's movie is about what it means to love your country, even when it seems your country doesn't love you back. If it appears the land you grew up in is going to the dogs, do you up and leave or stay and fight to improve things?

Under the Grey Sky review

That's the question Lena (Aliaksandra Vaitsekhovich) and her husband Ilya (Valentin Novopolskij) wrestle with. The couple are journalists who find their profession untenable in Lukashenko's Belarus, but rather than leave they're determined to stay, believing it's their duty to document the horrors of life under the brutal regime.

Lena and Ilya are slightly fictionalised versions of real life Belarusian journalists Katsiaryna Andreyeva and her husband Igor Ilyash, who found themselves in the same situation in 2020 when Katsiaryna was arrested for livestreaming an anti-government protest.

Under the Grey Sky review

Tamkovich opens her film with a reenactment of that event, as Lena broadcasts to the world from the hidden vantage point of an apartment overlooking a Minsk square teeming with protesters. When the police get wind of the livestream they begin banging on doors in search of the culprit. It's a nerve-wracking sequence, with Tamkovich evoking untold terrors to come from that thud of a gloved fist on an apartment door. Lena is so resigned to being caught that she piles on extra layers of underwear in anticipation of a stay in jail.

Lena's belief that she will simply have to spend a week or so behind bars proves naive as the regime becomes determined to make an example out of the rebellious journo. As her prison stay is extended and her fearful lawyer drops her case, it's left to Ilya to lead a fruitless campaign to free his wife. When the authorities propose clemency if Lena agrees to lie on camera and accept responsibility for organising the protest, Ilya attempts to convince his wife to betray her principles for the sake of her freedom.

Under the Grey Sky review

As a snippet of life in a totalitarian state, Under the Grey Sky is certainly effective. Every knock on a door, every mysterious parked van sends a shiver down the spine. Lena and Ilya are easy to get behind, unless your're a fascist that is, but the film is only interested in what they represent rather than who they are. It's an issue that dogs many a political film more interested in making a point than telling a story and crafting three dimensional characters. Lena is off screen for most of the film, her prison experience represented solely by her increasingly tired appearance each time she receives a visit by Ilya. We spend most of the film with Ilya, yet he never feels whole, merely a cypher who is representative of an ideal. Given the subject matter, it doesn't help the anti-fascist cause when a film is this single-mindedly propagandistic.

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