Venice 2021- “Trenches (Tranchees)” is an Unflinching Look at the Ukrainian Front Line: Film Review

The flickering of a nearly burnt out light bulb. The “Fatality!” sound effect from playing Mortal Kombat on a dusty Nintendo Switch. The soft glow of an old smartphone. Besides these few modern images, Trenches could have been depicting the life of a soldier during World War 1. The haunting black and white visuals of a swinging pickaxe or the impact of heavy artillery are nearly the same as those captured in Peter Jackson’s WW1 documentary, They Shall Not Grow Old.

Trenches follows Ukrainian soldiers who are engaged in trench warfare with the Russians in an attempt to gain their independence. We follow these individuals as they fight, but also in their moments of boredom.

“I’ve more often held a shovel or pickaxe than any weapons”

It is in these moments that we gaze into what the true face of the front line looks like. The soldiers josh with one another in an attempt to mask their primal fear of imminent death. Even despite their mostly guarded personalities on camera, as Al Pacino would say, “The eyes never lie…”.

Even with all our modern technological advances over the last one hundred years, these Ukrainian rebels are still being pushed into an ancient form of warfare. Trenches leave you feeling full of rage at the socioeconomic system that allowed this to occur in the first place. So basically, it will make one feel the same way those in the 1920s felt about The Great War. How does the old phrase go, “The more things change, the more they stay the same”…

The Silver Lining

The black and white cinematography by Loup Bureau gives Trenches a timelessness that could not have been accomplished in color. Though Bureau deserves even more praise for the over the shoulder tracking scenes that followed soldiers as they weaved their way through the trenches. Not only do these shots make the audience feel as though they are walking on the front lines, the shooting of these scenes were life threatening. For a cinematographer to risk their well being to record history in such glorious fashion, it is something to be in awe about.

Trenches is coming soon to a screen near you.

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