Niewiera & Rosolowski: The Hamlet Syndrome

… first names Elwira and Piotr, Polish directors, awarded for previous works “The Domino Effect” and “The Prince and the Dybbuk”, both praised on this site for their originality and professional skills. The same goes for this new film that demonstrates how literature, theatre and cinema can be welded together to create a tension that for this viewer has been sitting in mind and stomach for days the two times I have watched it on my MacBook Pro – the third time will be in a cinema. A promise to the filmmakers.

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, I asked the 11 year old grandchild this morning if he had heard about him. Indeed he had, “it is him with “to be or not to be”, the everlasting sentence, that is the core of the theatre play five Ukrainians perform with Roza Sarkisian, theatre director as the observant and often provoking master on the stage – together with the film directors who came with the script after having casted the protagonists.

One by one, following their monologue or dialogue rehearsals on stage, the film takes the viewer out in “the reality”. Katya who is meeting witnesses to document the war in the country – she was in Maidan and she was volunteering in the horrors in the Eastern part of the country. She sits with a microphone in a quiet garden with a woman, who tells how she was tortured by the occupiers. In a very emotional scene with Katya and her mother the latter expresses her anxiety not knowing what Katya was doing as a soldier.

These combined scenes are extraordinary: Slawik and his father, on stage in a phone call, where Roman, actor, “plays” his father, followed by Slawik meeting his father playing table tennis and having their conversation. ”You took ten years of my life”, the father says. And Rodion who has suffered because of his sexuality – with his mother in rainy weather who talks about how difficult it has been for her to accept that his son is “different”. Rodion performs a magnificent monologue on stage. “To be a LGBT in Donetsk”, where he comes from.

Why am I Hamlet is a question the five have a quick answer to. Oksana, feminist, who plays a central role in the last scene of the theatre play. No spoiling. 

The five have all been going through therapy. A quote from an interview with Elwira Niewiera in Business Doc Europe June 2022: “All five characters underwent therapy after their experiences of war, which was a core consideration in their participation both within the stage play and the film. “We made the decision that they are the right protagonists to go through this process…because all of them made therapy before. This was very important for us,” says co-director Elwira Niewiera, adding how once the actors immersed themselves into the play, it then became “an artistic process.”

Yes, the reason for the film to be so strong, so intense, so extraordinary in conveying the traumas, is that the filmmakers and their protagonists have made an artistic interpretation, what they have experienced before February 24 this year – the play was performed October 2020.

And after February 24, after the brutal invasion from the Russian barbarians… reading the text at the end credits, unbearable at the same time as you more than respect their courage: Katya, Slawik and Roman are in the army, Rodion sews military uniforms in Lviv, Oksana acts at a theatre in Poland and is involved in humanitarian aid.

Poland/Germany, 2022, 85 mins.

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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