The Earth is Blue as an Orange (Film Movement+, NR)

It’s not easy to raise four kids as a single mother, and it doesn’t get easier when you live in a war zone where nocturnal bombings are a regular occurrence. But that’s exactly what the indomitable Anna is doing in the city of Krasnohorivka in Donbas, an area in eastern Ukraine partly occupied by Russia.

Anna and her family are the central focus of Iryna Tsilyk’s documentary The Earth is Blue as an Orange, whose title comes from a poem by the surrealist Paul Eluard. Both title and the film allude to contradictory situations that nonetheless exist, like civilians being unable to avoid the consequences of war even though they are not taking part in it. Tsilyk’s film conveys a sense of what it’s like to live in a war zone in a way that news reports simply can’t, and that’s doing the world a service, above and beyond the creative approach to storytelling and expert cinematography that characterize this film.

Anna and her family have been fortunate so far: their home is still standing and they seem to (at least usually) have electricity and running water, as well as access to modern technology like cellphones and smartphones. Anna’s daughter Myroslava, a budding cinematographer, decides to direct a short film about her family’s experiences during the war. It’s called “2014” and is shown near the end of The Earth is Blue as an Orange, although most of what we see is not the film itself but the reactions of friends and family members who have gathered to watch it.  

Much of what is shown in The Earth is Blue as an Orange is surprisingly ordinary: kids skateboard and giggle over this and that, the household cats are fed, family members enjoy a birthday cake, students celebrate their graduation from high school. But those routine matters are punctuated by serious issues, like a wartime shortage of a vital medicine or the need to wear coats indoors because there’s no heat. Many of the outdoor shots include obvious bomb damage and Myroslava’s interview subjects (shot against a black screen) tell some truly harrowing tales about their experiences and how they were changed by them.

The Earth is Blue as an Orange is a calm film about a violent situation. Cinematographer Vyacheslav Tsvetkov tends to hold shots for a long time, even when nothing much seems to be happening before the camera. Locations and people are not identified onscreen, so you’re on your own to figure out who’s who and where they are.  For instance, fairly early in the film we see Myroslava and Anna traveling by train to a city for what turns out to be Myroslava’s interview for film school. Spoiler alert: she gets in, but for what school in what city I cannot tell you. The effect of not having that kind of basic information encourages you to go with the flow while also reminding you that although this documentary focuses on one particular family, it represents the experiences of many different people, and not just in Ukraine.

Tsilyk won the Best Director Award in the Sundance World Cinema Documentary Competition for The Earth is Blue as an Orange, and the film won Best Documentary at the Seattle International Film Festival and Best Cinematography from the International Documentary Association. | Sarah Boslaugh

The Earth is Blue as an Orange is available on DVD from Film Movement+ and is also available through many streaming services, including VUDU, Apple TV, Apple TV Canada, Amazon, and Google Play.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *