20 Days In Mariupol

Reviewed by Paul Titley

In "20 Days in Mariupol", shown at the Keswick Film Club last Sunday, the photojournalist Mstyslav Chernov and his team recorded the terrible effects of civilian bombing during the siege of Mariupol in Ukraine in 2022. This was 105 minutes of genuine horror with the occasional contrast of banal images: traffic lights continuing to flicker during bombing; the rescue of a pet tortoise.

The focus of the film was the constant action in hospitals, either by receiving the injured, the closeness of bombing, and finally being bombed. It was not easy to watch – there is a limit to how many children and babies I want to see die, and that limit is zero. But the lens never gave the viewer the option to look away unless you shut your eyes. The viewer could not fail to be drawn into the grief of the parents, and their screams of despair.

Chernov was the narrator throughout, explaining what we were seeing, and the increasing perilousness of their position as the only foreign reporters left in the city. Only after they had left and reconnected with their editors was the material available for the international press to report. The film emphasised this point by repeating many of the images (suitably sanitised) with several News logos attached.

The Russian attackers were hardly ever seen up close, although we did see their leaders rubbishing the images as 'fake' or 'staged by actors'. Our view was not sanitised, and was underscored by a deep threatening monotone soundtrack, emphasising the dread inherent in the pictures we were seeing.

This unforgettable film was appreciated by an audience that sat in silence once it ended.