"Now everybody smile and say CINEMA!"
It's unfortunate that The Earth Is Blue as an Orange is a "documentary," but that's what everybody is calling this sparkling debut feature film. It premiered in the "World Cinema Documentary" competition at Sundance 2020, as opposed to the "World Cinema Dramatic" programme. How about just "World Cinema," folks?
At Berlinale, the film was slotted in "Generation 14plus," I suppose because the director, Iryna Tysilyk, is young and there are young people featured in her film. I doubt there were many more compelling cinema productions competing, with the "grown-ups," for the Golden Bear. Subsequently, The Earth Is Blue as an Orange has been presented mostly by documentary festivals, including this week within Camden International Film Festival's finely curated (I'm finding) online programme.
When a work such as The Earth Is Blue as an Orange revels in cinema's borderless capacity to open up our vision and view of the world, not to mention our hearts and minds, why the impulse to wall it in, restrict and confine it? Offering another way to consider the art of the real, the title is drawn from the first line of Paul Éluard's poem "La terre est bleue." The earth is blue like an orange, the poem insists, and the words don't lie. ("Jamais une erreur les mots ne mentent pas"). We're being poked to reject categories, the literal, to see and feel anew:
Tu as toutes les joies solaires
Tout le soleil sur la terre
Sur les chemins de ta beauté.
Éluard was a surrealist and Krasnohorivka, Ukraine, is this film's surreal setting. Since early 2014, the town has been on the frontline of Russia's proxy war with Ukraine. Shells are flying over their home, but emerging cinematographer Myroslava Trofymchuk and her family are occupied making a short film. Everybody's pitching in. Hanna, Mira's mom, has an idea:
"You have to show in which city the action is set. Do you understand? You have a normal, civilized house, in a normal, civilized setting. How will you show that you've been living in the war for five years? How will you show the destroyed city?"
Good note Hanna: Show, but don't tell. While the layers of filmmaking at play here offer significant intra-referentiality, Tsilyk is tastefully restrained with the meta bling. She met Mira and her sister, Anastasiia, at a youth film workshop (The Yellow Bus) in Donbas. Tsilyk followed them home, was captivated by the family, and set about making The Earth Is Blue as an Orange as a "making-of" piece. There is an interview with the filmmaker offering more context on YouTube.
Tsilyk's film, a coming-of-age story (if one insists on a genre), is exquisitely crafted, nary a boring frame nor baggy scene, start to finish. I was in joyful tears thirty minutes in and again during the sublime closing scene, in which the family's short film, "2014," is screened for a local audience.
It's cinema. Everybody smile.