Can the cycle of war and peace ever be stopped? The question looms large in Alina Gorlova’s This Rain Will Never Stop, a documentary told through the eyes of Andriy Suleyman: a 20-something man with Syrian citizenship, born in Al-Hasakah to a Kurdish father and a Ukrainian mother. After fleeing the Syrian civil war, Andriy is forced to resettle with his family in Lysychansk, a town located in the Ukrainian region of Luhansk. But conflict seems to follow them, and soon, the 2014 Donbas conflict is destroying their lives once again.
The film’s astonishing monochrome imagery (courtesy of director of photography Viacheslav Tsvietkov) serves to strengthen the feeling of displacement and solitude experienced by Andriy, a Red Cross volunteer committed to helping society’s weakest. With a rather observational approach – and a few poetic detours – Gorlova takes the viewer on a long journey from Ukraine to Iraq, Syria, and Germany, visiting war zones, parades, refugee camps, weddings, funerals, and a family scattered across Europe and Asia. The narration’s main turning point takes place when the protagonist’s father dies, and Andriy is ready to accompany him on his very last journey back to their native land.
The Calvert Journal met Gorlova – virtually, for obvious reasons – following the film’s triumph at this year’s International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, where it took home the award for Best First Appearance.
“I started working on This Rain Will Never Stop four years ago. Initially, it was supposed to be a character-driven short,’ she says. “Back then, I already knew that would be about Andriy Suleyman. However, while filming, I realised that the scope of the piece could have been wider. I understood that there was potential to say something more universal about the impact of war [outside the Syrian and Ukrainian conflicts].” The choice to film in black-and-white became another way of uniting these different countries, struggling with similar violence. “Through black-and-white, I thought that I could create this unified space, from Donbas to Syria. That’s also the reason why I decided not to add captions introducing the different places. Later in post-production, I realised how black-and-white cinematography seemed to reflect the conflict between war and peace, two opposite sides that form our world. It embodies a sort of yin-and-yang stylisation.”
Gorlova’s documentary speaks on two different levels: it effectively shows how moments of joy and peace are perceived as ephemeral by those who have suffered from an important loss and are still coping with their past traumas.
It also sensitises the viewers – in an absorbing and in part-disorienting fashion – about the cruelty of war in Ukraine and Syria and the refugees’ emotional turmoil, helping them to empathise with their pain and gain knowledge that goes beyond the portrayal offered by the mainstream media. Said interplay is interspersed throughout the film but it powerfully emerges in one sequence in particular, namely the one depicting Andriy attending his brother’s wedding in Germany. At first, he seems to calmly enjoy the party and forget about his troubled past but, later, during a group dance, the gloomy score and the digitally degrading transitions take over, bringing the sequence and the man’s brief moment of light-heartedness to an end.
Gorlova herself talks about undergoing that same sensitisation process. “While filming, I was living in these places. We didn’t show a lot of the context because of our choice to focus on Andriy’s path, but I realised how much these people are losing, how many connections and bonds are broken because of this war. I’d like to bring this feeling to European audiences, which is perhaps difficult to describe with words but is something I was able to express through the language of film. When you’re losing your roots, you’re basically losing your direction in life.”
Such empathy, she stresses, is easy to lose — even when the tragedy is close to home. “When we were filming at a checkpoint between Ukrainian-controlled territories [and those controlled by the breakaway republic], I saw real people that had passed the border every day, how they’re stricken by poverty and need to come to Ukraine to buy and collect food. After this experience, these conflicts will have human faces [to me]. That was also one of my goals with this documentary: to give a face to the war.”
This Rain Will Never Stop was produced by Ukraine’s Tabor Production, Latvia’s Avantis Promo and Germany’s Bulldog Agenda. The international promotion of the film was supported by the Ukrainian Institute.