Simon Lereng Wilmont: The Distant Barking of Dogs

DOCS & TALKS 2019 / CINEMATEKET / SØN 03/02 14:00

The location is Hnutove, Eastern Ukraine, war zone for years. A village from where – for the very same reason – many Ukrainian families have moved away. But not grandmother Alexandra and 10 year old Oleg, the main characters of this remarkable, multi-layered film. Grandmother insists on staying. In the best Danish documentary I have seen this year. A film about Childhood, about Fear, about survival, about Love. Made with love. And cinematic skills on how to build a story, compose the images and put them together with a soundtrack that stresses the atmosphere of the scenes, without killing them.

Oleg and his cousin Yarik are like kids everywhere. They do pillow fights, they fight as kids do, they are crawling around wherever

there is space to crawl, they go swimming in the river, suntanned, they jump in the beds, they wear football shirts… but their outdoor playground is different. Ruins with cartridges, mortars, unexploded mines… in sometimes a constant sound carpet of bombs and the sight of war as flashes of light on the sky. It’s an understatement to say that this constitutes a fragile childhood for the kids.

The grandmother IS love and the director, who is also the cameraman, knows how to convey that to the viewers: Oleg and grandmother walking in the snow in the beginning of the film, to visit the graveyard of Oleg’s mother. The two boys caressing granny in her bed, when she falls ill, Granny ”educating” Oleg when he comes home having shot a frog with the gun of the elder Kostya.

But granny has her worries about what will come out of this living in a war zone. There is an exceptional shot showing this, made from the room next door. She sits alone at her kitchen table looking into the air. No words, the house cat walks in. As viewer we know that the boys have been put to bed by her.

The film is full of scenes like that – so well composed, and hurra for letting the scenes stand long to be developed, editor’s name is Michael Aaglund – that are full of childhood and scenes full of ”this is warzone”. The latter of course heartbreaking. The granny is being treated for panic attacks, Oleg expresses his fear of the war verbally, whereas the smaller Yarik reacts physically. The war is close by, but the war is also on television, they sit and watch.

The film is shot during a year with the grandmother as the narrator – few voice-off’s compared to dialogue caught in scenes – with some ”highlights” in the story: Yarik leaves with his mother, who has fallen in love with a soldier, but comes back to grandmother… Grandmother gets ill, the kids eat sandwiches with chocolate… Oleg gets a hole in his foot…

With the help of Kostya they decide to put up new wallpaper in the corridor – the motif is a very green forest! Nice to look at, like the river near their house, the sky where you could hope the rain would come from… Real rain and not rain of bombs.

Denmark, 2017, 90 mins. Tue Steen Müllers anmeldelse har været bragt tidligere her på FILMKOMMENTAREN og dertil yderligere en række blogindlæg om filmen. (ABN)


Den prisbelønnede danske dokumentarfilm ‘The Distant Barking of Dogs’ tager os med til Ukraines frontlinje, hvor vi gennem 10-årige Olegs øjne bliver vidne til det uskyldstab, krigen gradvist påtvinger barnesindet. Instruktør Simon Lereng Wilmonts mesterligt fotograferede film portrætterer indlevende, hvor centrale de nære relationer er, når verden, som man kender den, udvikler sig til en krigszone, når naboerne flygter og alt, hvad der er velkendt og trygt, opløses omkring en.


BØRN I KRIG / OLEGS KRIG / The Distant Barking of Dogs, Simon Lereng Wilmont, 2017 / eng. tekst ?/ 90 min. / 145 min. inkl. debat

Efter filmen perspektiverer seniorforsker på DIIS Johannes Lang i samtale med Mozhdeh Ghasemiyani, psykolog hos Læger uden Grænser, konsekvenserne af at vokse op og leve i en krigszone, og ikke mindst betydningen af de nære relationer, når krig bliver hverdag.

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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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